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SOUTH Australia's iconic Ghan rail journey is under threat by a Defence Department bid to control a section of the Adelaide to Darwin rail line on one in every five days of the year.
The AdvertiserÂ can reveal operators of part of the rail line, Genesee and Wyoming, were told they would have to cancel trains in May because Defence needed the Woomera Prohibited Area forÂ militaryÂ tests.
Ghan or Government - who should have right of way?
Defence was blocked from going ahead with the shutdown, but a spokeswoman for the company yesterday said it would raise the issue with the incoming Abbott government.
South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon has urged the incoming Federal Government to axe legislation being pushed by the Department which gives preference to military testing over use of the railway by trains.
Before the federal election was called, a senate committee was debating new powers, which would enshrine in legislation the right for the defence minister to go further and shut the line for up to 70 days each year when military tests are carried out at Woomera.
"The former government's legislation should be revamped completely because these are ridiculous consequences that should be derailed,'' Senator Xenophon said.
The railway travels through the Woomera Prohibited Area, which is increasingly needed by the Defence Department for its activities.
"The concerns we have (raised with the Rudd government) remain open and we look forward to working with the new government,'' a spokeswoman for Genesee and Wyoming said.
The problem has come to light because the senate committee released submissions to its inquiry, including from Genesee and Wyoming managing director Greg Pauline, which outlined the threat to Ghan service and the company's weekly freight task, worth $100 million.
"The railway is of considerable economic value to business and consumers in South Australia, the Northern Territory and elsewhere. The iconic Ghan passenger service also uses the line up to two times per week,'' Mr Pauline wroteÂ in his submission.
"The railway line runs through the green zone and amber zone 2, where the minister for defence has the capacity to close the area for up to 70 days per year, or 19 per cent of available train running time.
"A rail closure of two hours in certain circumstances could cause a train to be cancelled.
"Train cancellations will have a knock-on effect.Â Cancellations of mineral trains could disrupt shipping timetables for minerals exporters and the abilities of supermarkets in Darwin to supply produce.''
The incoming Abbott government ministry has not been announced, butAspects of the plan were strongly questioned by then Opposition defence spokesman Senator David Johnson when the Bill passed the House of Representatives.His spokesmanfor Senator Johnston said the election had interrupted the progress of the Bill and the Senator still had concerns about rail and other access to the area.Â SheÂ said the issue was likely to be reconsidered when the ministry was announced.
This article first appeared on www.couriermail.com.au
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