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Australia Thinks Big

On Thursday the Australian Federal Government announced that it and state government's would spend a massive A$480 million to complete the rail link between the northern and southern coasts - nearly 90 years after the idea was first floated. John Howard reports.

On Friday I attended a farewell party for a friend, who is a construction engineer, and his wife and their three children who are migrating to Australia to work on the project. His final departing words at the airport: " When will this country (NZ) ever learn. We should become a state of Australia."

Prime Minister, John Howard, has dubbed the project "the steel Snowy" referring to the 1960's massive public works building of the giant Snowy Mountains Hydro-electricity scheme.

Construction of the this new north-south rail link, between Alice Springs and Darwin, will begin in May and is expected to be completed in three years. About 2000 workers will be required to build the 1,410km line, with 5000 more expected to benefit from supply contracts.

Politicians, industry and unions are applauding the scheme saying it is the dream, the vision, the opportunity, it's the future.

The new rail link means goods will be able to be shipped from Darwin rather than Adelaide, cutting three days from a journey to Singapore and up to 18 days to Manila. The link will also lead to greater minerals development and export opportunities. Farmers say the rail link will now act as a spur to identify new export markets.

Tourism will also be boosted with the operators of the Ghan passenger service between Adelaide and Alice Springs flagging a A$3 million overture to extend the service to Darwin - a move welcomed by the project backers.



The owners and operators of the Asia Pacific Transport Consortium will raise the remaining A$750 million to complete the project. Other players include McMahon Holdings, rail operators Genesse and Wyoming, Macquarie Bank, John Holland Group and MPG logistics.

In the short-term the project is set to breath new life into ailing regional and industrial towns and, over the long-term, the Australian economy.

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