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Background—Organisation of Australia's Railways

The ownership and management arrangements for Australia's rail infrastructure and rail operations are generally divided into “below” rail (track management) and “above” rail (operators of trains and rollingstock). These functions are performed by a mix of Government and private sector operators.


Interstate and Hunter Valley lines are leased to the Commonwealth Government-owned Australian Rail Track Corporation.

The Sydney urban system is operated by the NSW Government-owned Sydney Trains. The Countrylink and outer services to the Central Coast, Blue Mountains and Illawarra are operated by NSW Trains.

Regional branch lines are owned by the NSW Government agency Transport for NSW and operated under contract by ARTC.


Interstate standard gauge lines are leased to the Australian Rail Track Corporation.

Broad gauge (and some standard gauge) branch lines are owned by the Victorian Government-owned Victrack. Victrack also owns a significant portion of the state's passenger rolling stock (trains and trams).

The Melbourne urban passenger system is operated by the Victorian Government authority Public Transport Victoria.


The Interstate network between the NSW border and Acacia Ridge Intermodal Freight Terminal is leased to the Australian Rail Track Corporation.

Heavy freight haul and the Central Queensland Coal Network are leased by Aurizon (formerly QR National), a privately owned corporation.

Regional freight systems, passenger rail services and the urban rail network (including South East Queensland) are owned and operated by the Queensland Government-owned Queensland Rail.


The interstate standard gauge line from Kalgoorlie to Adelaide is owned by the Australian Rail Track Corporation.

Rail lines in the south-west of the state are leased to Brookfield Rail, a privately owned corporation.

Pilbara railway lines are owned and managed by privately listed companies including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group.

SA and NT:

Interstate standard gauge lines are owned by Australian Rail Track Corporation.

Other lines (mainly grain) are operated by Genesee and Wyoming Australia Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Genesee and Wyoming based in North America. This includes the railway line that runs from Tarcoola to Darwin.

The Adelaide urban passenger system is operated by the South Australian Government-owned Adelaide Metro.


Rail is owned and operated by Tasmanian Railway Pty Ltd (TasRail), a Tasmanian Government-owned rail company established in December 2009.

Australian Government Rail Reforms:

In November 1996, the Australian Government announced a major rail reform package that included:

  • The sale of Australian National Railways Commission (AN);
  • The sale of National Rail Corporation (NRC); and
  • The establishment of Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to manage access to the interstate rail network.

The objective of these reforms was to respond to rail's decreasing market share by increasing private sector involvement to lower the cost of transport to industry, better meet the needs of customers and provide long term employment in the rail sector.

Sale of Australian National Railways Commission (AN)

The Australian National Railways Commission (AN) was established in 1978 by the amalgamation of the Commonwealth Railways, South Australian Railways and Tasmanian Government Railways. AN took over the operation of all Commonwealth and non-urban South Australian lines and the railways of Tasmania.

In 1997/98 the Australian Government sold AN's interstate freight and interstate passenger services to three operators. The Government also transferred the below rail (track and signalling) infrastructure to the newly formed Government owned Australian Rail Track Corporation.

Great Southern Railways took charge of the passenger services, The Indian Pacific, The Ghan and the Overland on 7 November 1998.

Australian Southern Railroad (now Genesee and Wyoming Australia Pty Ltd—GWA) took control of the SA rail freight businesses on 31 October 1997. GWA took control of the Tarcoola to Darwin line from 1 December 2010, following a purchase of the assets of the line's previous owner, FreightLink Pty Ltd.

Following Tasmanian Government ownership, New Zealand based Corporation TranzRail took ownership of Tasrail in 1997, before passing ownership to Australian Transport Network (ATN) from 2000. In February 2004, ATN sold its Tasmanian Rail holdings to Pacific National. Having assumed responsibility for the above rail assets in 2007, in late 2009 the Tasmanian Government purchased the remaining business assets back from Pacific National. In December 2009, the Tasmanian Government established a new Government-owned Corporation, also called TasRail, to own and operate the rail lines in the state.

Sale of National Rail Corporation (NRC)

The National Rail Corporation (NRC) was established under the Commonwealth Corporation Law and was jointly owned by the Australian, New South Wales and Victorian Governments. NRC was formed under the National Rail Agreement 1991 to operate interstate freight operations in Australia; NRC commenced operations in April 1993.

NRC and the NSW Governments owned freight operator, Freightcorp were jointly sold in January 2002 and has operated as a private entity Pacific National.

Formation of Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC)

At the 14 November 1997 meeting of the Australian Transport Council (since replaced with the Standing Council on Transport and Infrastructure), State and Commonwealth Transport Ministers signed an Intergovernmental Agreement to establish the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to provide a single point of access for the standard gauge interstate track. ARTC is a public company whose shares are wholly owned by the Australian Government.

ARTC was incorporated on 25 February 1998 under the Corporations Law. While the AN train services were all privatised, the AN mainline interstate track was transferred to ARTC which commenced operations on 1 July 1998.

The functions of ARTC include:

  • Providing efficient and seamless access to the interstate rail network by entering into access agreements with track owners;
  • Managing track maintenance and construction, train pathing, scheduling, timetabling and train control on track owned or controlled by the company;
  • Improving the interstate rail infrastructure through better asset management, and by managing (in consultation with rail operators and track owners) a program of commercial and public funded investment for the interstate rail network; and
  • Promoting operational efficiency and (by working with other track owners) uniformity of operating, technical and safety standards and practices on the interstate rail network.

ARTC owns or leases the interstate track from Kalgoorlie in the west to the Acacia Ridge in Queensland.