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Issue # 1425      26 August 2009

King coal propped up by taxpayers’ dollars

Over the past two years or more there has been massive spending on coal mine expansion and associated infrastructure in the Hunter Valley, a major supplier of coal to the world’s furnaces. It is estimated that close on 100 million tonnes of coal will head to overseas markets from the coal terminals of Newcastle this year with even more to come when the NCIG terminal comes online in mid 2010. This new terminal will increase Newcastle’s export capacity to in excess of 130 million tonnes annually earning massive profits for the mining sector of the Australian economy.

In order to get the coal to the port of Newcastle the federal and state governments have seen fit to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars by refurbishing some of the existing rail corridor in the lower part of the Hunter Valley. For example there was $80 million spent on the Sandgate flyover which has been a troublesome spot for the coal trains as it slowed them down to almost a crawl. “Not good enough” said the mine bosses and the good old taxpayers of New South Wales forked out the money to fix the problem all to the cheering of the mine bosses.

The Upper Hunter isn’t missing out on the state and federal government’s “spending spree” by a long shot. Work has just recently commenced on Stage 1 of a rail duplication project that will eventually see 30 kilometres of new rail line being specifically built for the coal companies. The first section of the project known as Minimbah Bank rail duplication will include 10 kilometres of a third rail line and associated works that will see the gradient in this section considerably lowered, making the overall speed of the loaded coal trains being increased greatly.

Currently this section, just on the southern side of Singleton, makes slow going for the loaded trains. The cost of this first section is $134 million with most of the money coming from Kevin Rudd’s Building Australia Fund. It was very generous of Mr Rudd to donate this money on behalf of the taxpayers to assist the “ailing” coal mining companies in the Hunter Valley who have made billions of dollar profits over the years.

It is grossly unfair that other than the normal company taxes that coal mining businesses have to pay they have not contributed one cent towards the construction costs of a purpose built rail line just for them! Just north of Murrurundi at Ardglen in the Upper Hunter there is planned another taxpayer funded cash splurge in the form of a new rail tunnel and 14 kilometres of new track all from the generosity of Mr Rudd’s Building Australia Fund.

Depending on which one of the four options open to the successful tenderer, the cost for this project will fall between $206 million and $465 million. This section of rail line is known as the steepest in the state and loaded coal and grain trains have to be assisted over a short section of track with extra locomotives at the rear of the trains.

With all this money being spent on heavy duty rail lines mostly for coal there has been no mention of amended rail passenger timetables for those who use the rail service between Scone and Newcastle. There is a degree of uncertainty as to whether or not the government will continue with a rail passenger service to Scone or maybe they will abandon the passenger service altogether in favour of making it a total coal service line.

The township of Scone is split by the New England Highway and the railway line that feeds into the north-west of the state where in the future there will be massive open cut and underground mines as well as cotton and grain farms. In order to get the massive amounts of coal and grain to the port the trains of the future will be 92 wagons in total.

Should one of these 92 wagon super trains be either de-railed or have other mobility problems within the town it will cause absolute chaos. The town’s emergency services eg: police, ambulance, fire, SES and hospital are on the eastern side of the town and on the western side are two schools, airport, racetrack and a very large housing development. The problem could be solved by building a rail overpass on the highway but as of yet NO FUNDING IS AVAILABLE said the state and federal governments – of course no end of money is available to bolster up mine profits.

One would think that with all this money being splashed around that the towns in the centre of all this would be booming. Not so! Just have a look at the main street of Muswellbrook for example and see the amount of empty shops. You would also think that there were jobs aplenty for the town’s people. Again, not so. It is reported that at times there is a waiting period of between two and three weeks to see a doctor in Muswellbrook.

When are we going to see more money spent on public services like doctors, dentists, mental health services, roads and hospitals in the Hunter Valley, or are the leaders of our state and federal governments happy to see a once rich and fertile part of NSW totally savaged by foreign owned mining companies?

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