Controlling the track - Track Access

Track management negotiations
For perhaps the last fifteen years of Australian National's existence, a dialogue had been in existence between their management and their counterparts in Victoria, New South Wales, and Western Australia over the ownership, supervision and maintenance of the main trunk routes becoming the responsibity of AN, and by the time the axe fell in 1997, much of all of the agreements had been hammered out to the mutual agreement of all parties.

Victoria was the first, with control of the route from Serviceton to Sunshine, and from Albury on the NSW border through Sunshine into the freight yard at Dynon and the interstate passenger platforms at Melbourne's Spencer Street passing to AN. The Broad Gauge Adelaide-Melbourne route was, of course, through Ballarat.

Illustration of Spencer Street

New South Wales had little interest in their main line from Orange or Parkes through to Broken Hill, and informed sources say that tentative agreement had been unofficially reached on AN owning, controlling and maintaining the western main from Broken Hill to Lithgow in the Blue Mountains - a very suitable division point in view of engine changes there anyway, because that was the end of the overhead electric catenary out of Sydney. It should be pointed out that the trialling and subsequent usage of AN diesel engines on the "Indian Pacific" all the way into Sydney was a logistical decision to avoid rostering of engine and crew changes specifically on that train at Lithgow.

Illustration of Lithgow electric

In the West of the continent, the only trains that ran over much of the standard gauge main line east from Avon Yard at Northam apart from grain trains from Merriden (and feeder lines into there), were BHP Iron Ore trains from Koolyanobing to the Australian Iron and Steel smelters at Kwinana, and the three or four times a week one round trip passenger railcar to and from Kalgoorlie and Perth ("The Prospector"). It seems that agreement in principle had almost been reached on the handing over of the Kalgoorlie-Merriden section.

maps of principal routes, illustration of "Prospector"

Formation of National Rail Corporation
Track Access created

Once National Rail had come into existence as an additional track user with running rights over AN's trackwork, some financial accounting authority needed to be established to obtain payment on a tonne-kilometre basis for usage of the rail system by a "private operator", as such an occasion had never existed before this time in either the old SAR or CR territory. The few charters that had operated had all been using the railway company's own rollingstock and locomotives, and staff were supplied as a matter of course.

Initially a rebadged version of the old SAR/CR Chief Civil Engineer's/Chief Traffic Manager's department, the operational supervision of traffic was already geared up to accomodate control of trains passing through its territory through extensive S & T installations and upgrades over the years, and the infrastructure was already there. Those people already working there, or transferred there, would be more secure in their immediate employment prospects as AN's income diminished. In many ways they were fortunate, with the retrenchments going on in other departments of the railway company. It is a matter of conjecture that the bits of the dismantling empire which were to remain in the Commonwealth government's charge were going to be better looked after by the government. The other bits were less fortunate, as we saw in the chapters on "problems" and "privatisation".

However, all of the interstate track transfer negotiations previously mentioned fell in a heap, and the good work put in by many ANRC staff became just history, for it was obvious that without a lucrative source of income AN would not be in a position to maintain, let alone purchase or lease the other trunk main lines.

Eventually some degree of agreement was reached with Victoria, but there are still allegations on the one hand that the track management people in the some of the other States charge too much for paths through their territory, with counter claims that they are economically calculated.

A point that might be missed by readers not associated with the engineering disciplines is that there were an immense number of plans and drawings stored in three locations around the AN system, along with a not insignificant number of (AutoCAD) computer aided design files produced by the AN drawing office at Keswick over the period of time it had been there. All of the standard gauge track drawings were produced on CAD, and many earlier drawings had beeen laboriously converted to CAD format.

It was realised that these should at least be brought to a central point so that prints could be made of those which were still relevant and needed to be referred to. Unfortunately by this time there wasn't anybody left to do this, so tenders were once again called, and the last remaining draftsman, (Mark O'Malley) then set up a company to manage this facility. Trading as Inteltrans, and equipped with a phone and a fax and an email address, he began the mammoth task of moving everything associated with plans and their care from Port Augusta and Keswick into premises at Islington which had been the pay office in reasonably recent times.

Islington was chosen as it was still a railway locations, because the AN building had also been sold, being acquired by a fertiliser company who (as one can see here) have already removed the AN logo from the exterior of the top floor plant room. As Track Access was the only bit of the railway still owned by the commonwealth, it fell to them to call the tenders for the plan room project and then supervise the contract.

On 1st July 1998, another government owned supposedly public company was formed, the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which took over the "Track Access" assets of Australian National Railways. The company, like NRC, was given five years to become self-sufficient. We shall have to see what the situation is, in 2003.

Updated on 10th May 1999