Upgrade our rail system (letter)by Kevin O'NeillNews Weekly
, January 31, 2004
I write in relation to the recent announcement by the Defence Minister that Australia will have to spend $50 billion up to 2013 for ships, aeroplanes, tanks and other equipment.
A significant amount of this material will be located in Northern Australia and offshore, and will have to be maintained and supplied by our existing transport infrastructure, the core element of which is our rail system, which is in a parlous state.
World War II demonstrated that the break of the Australian rail gauge is an acute and vital problem for the defence of Australia, but no completely satisfactory system has been found.
Apart from the new standard gauge line to Darwin, which has great defence significance, little has changed for the better in our rail system.
True, our capital cities are linked with a common gauge. However, north of Brisbane, probably our most defence-sensitive areas, we have the narrow gauge that existed in World War II.
Unless we maintain vast quantities of military materials in northern areas, our resupply difficulties will be much the same as they were 60 years ago.
World history indicates that a well-organised defence is more likely to ward off a potential predator and more likely to commend us to an ally.
Elimination of the break-of-gauge would be a net gain to the Australian economy. It is reported that economists who have studied the problem say that they do not know what the cost of the break-of-gauge has cost the Australian economy; they know only that the cost has been astronomical.
The rising freight task, estimated to double in the next 15 years, the rising dollar, together with the development of Australia demand that Australia take a decision to eliminate the break-of-gauge as a matter of defence and economic urgency.Kevin O'Neill,