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Asciano battle could spur on ARTC sale

The battle between Qube and Brookfield over all or part of major port and rail operator Asciano could trigger a renewed focus from the government on the sale of track owner the Australian Rail Track Corporation, a Fairfax report suggests.

The AFR’s Street Talk column on Friday reported the Department of Finance could soon advertise for bankers to oversee a scoping study – early in 2016 – into the potential sale of the ARTC, for a price estimated in the range of $5bn.

With both sides in the battle for Asciano sorting out significant financial backing, the losing party would be in prime position, once the dust settles, as a potential candidate to buy the ARTC instead.

The Federal Government set aside its initial plans to privatise the ARTC in September, after finance minister Mathias Cormann said the scoping study could get in the way of the development of the ARTC-operated Inland Rail line between Melbourne and Brisbane.

“The scoping study into options for the future management, operations and ownership of the ARTC will need to be broadened to take this important strategic initiative into account,” Cormann said in September, adding: “The ARTC scoping study remains on track for consideration by the government in the 2016/17 Budget process.”

The ARTC was established as a government entity in July 1998 to manage Australia’s interstate rail network. Today it owns – through a 60-year-lease – most of New South Wales’ non-metropolitan rail infrastructure, including the Hunter Valley rail network, which supplies coal to Newcastle’s export terminals.

The ARTC also owns and manages railways in Queensland and Victoria.

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