Taxpayers face steep rail subsidy bill

The Queensland government says it will pay about $265 in subsidies for every person who uses the revamped Brisbane-to-Cairns passenger rail service.

Premier Anna Bligh yesterday announced a $189 million project to buy a luxury new tilt train and refurbish two others, replacing the ageing Sunlander Train when it goes out of service in 2014.

The new trains will feature deluxe sleeper cars with personal ensuites, first-class cars with lay-flat seats like airline skybeds, and premium economy seating.

A restaurant car will boast a la carte dining and flat-screen televisions with movies and shows on demand will be installed in every seat.

Although the ticket prices are yet to be revealed, the Cairns-to-Brisbane rail service will continue to attract massive subsidies from the state government just to keep it in operation.

Transport Minister Rachel Nolan said $265 per passenger was the average government subsidy provided for the current service.

The subsidy is the difference in the revenue from fares and the cost of providing the service.

Ms Bligh said the government was not looking to reduce the subsidy on the “very important service” and played down concerns over the costs to taxpayers.

“There is no public transport system anywhere in the world that is not subsidised,” she said.

Ms Bligh acknowledged it was cheaper to fly, but said the quality rail service which stopped at cities along the way would appeal to some people.

“It’s not for everybody ... this is a relaxing ride to Cairns. This is something that tourists look for,” she said.

Ms Bligh said pensioners would continue to have access to free travel passes on the service, having only to pay a small booking fee.

Ms Nolan said 85,000 people used the service last year and the number of seats on the new models would be similar.

She said the current price for an economy class ticket on the Cairns Sunlander was $218.

Travel times will be cut from 31 hours to 26 with the arrival of the new, faster service in four years.

The old Sunlander will be decommissioned after serving for 45 years.

The Premier said the contract to work on the trains had been awarded to a Maryborough facility, Downer EDI, directly supporting 500 jobs.

Ms Bligh said it was awarded without a competitive tender process because the company held the intellectual property for tilt trains.

She said probity advice suggested a rival would have to pay more money to secure the intellectual property.

- with AAP