NSW minister for roads, maritime and freight Duncan Gay says the government can’t find a suitable tenderer to restore and run the Cowra Lines in the state’s central west.
After appeals from local communities for a restoration and re-opening of the lines, a tender process was opened, but it seems no-one is interested in doing the work on the government’s terms.
“The tender process revealed there was too much uncertainty in the ability of the tenderers to return the lines to full service and run a commercially sustainable business without significant taxpayer support,” Gay explained.
“An extensive evaluation including advice from independent experts concluded neither of the two proposals received for the recent Cowra Lines Request for Tender had adequately addressed the tender criteria.
“Transport for NSW received two tenders to restore, maintain and operate The Cowra Lines but neither was found to sufficiently demonstrate they could manage the lines on a commercially sustainable basis.
“The tenders were thoroughly assessed against criteria such as a strong business case, technical ability, financial backing and the ability to manage operational risks.”
Gay said Transport for NSW would maintain a close watching brief over how The Cowra Lines, as well as other non-operational rail lines in NSW, could potentially be brought back into operation where sustainable freight demand exists.
He said further options for bringing The Cowra Lines back into service may also be explored as part of the government’s Fixing Country Rail program.
“As part of our Rebuilding NSW Plan, the Government has committed $400 million to the Fixing Country Rail program, while $153 million will be invested over the next three years to continue fast tracking repairs and upgrades to the 996 kilometres of grain lines across NSW,” Gay explained.
The initial evaluation of the Cowra Lines tender identified a preferred tenderer.
But a detailed review by the tender panel and independent experts has shown the level of risk associated with the preferred tenderers’ proposal was too great to be acceptable, according to Transport for NSW.
The Cowra Lines are 200km of non-operational rail lines between Blayney and Harden, and Koorawatha and Greenethorpe.
They were progressively closed between 2007 and 2009 due to safety concerns and low freight volumes.
An estimated investment of more than $30 million would be required to restore the infrastructure, with further ongoing maintenance costs estimated at more than $2 million each year. Transport for NSW launched an open tender offering a fixed term licence to restore, operate and maintain The Cowra Lines in March 2014.
“over the past three years we have worked closely with the Blayney, Cowra, Weddin, Harden and Young councils and the private sector to investigate whether the Cowra Lines could be reopened and made commercially viable again,” Gay continued.
“While the tender process did not result in The Cowra Lines being leased to a private sector operator, it has generated market interest and provided valuable information that may assist in bringing the lines back into operation at some point in the future.”