Australian National Railways Commission

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Industry Railway operator
Predecessor Commonwealth Railways
South Australian Railways
Successor Australian Rail Track Corporation
Australian Southern Railroad
Great Southern Rail
National Rail
Founded July 1975
Defunct June 1998
Headquarters Adelaide
Area served
Northern Territory
South Australia
Western Australia
Parent Government of Australia
Subsidiaries AN Tasrail

Australian National was a railway operator owned by the Government of Australia. It was known as Australian National Railways in its early years, before being rebranded as Australian National.


GM class and 830 class at Mount Gambier in April 1995
Genesee & Wyoming Australia GM class in Australian National livery in the Clare Valley in April 2008
Pacific National AN class in Australian National livery at Newport in May 2008

Australian National Railways was established by the Whitlam Federal Government following a commitment made in the 1972 election to invite the states to hand over their railway systems to the federal government. In July 1975 Australian National Railways was formed taking over the operations of the federal government owned Commonwealth Railways.

The state governments of South Australia and Tasmania whose railway systems were deeply in debt, accepted. During the next two years discussions between these two states and the federal government resulted in a number of staffing and operating agreements being made that resulted in all South Australian Railways services (except the Adelaide metropolitan passenger network) and all Tasmanian Government Railways services transferring to Australian National Railway in March 1978, the latter being rebranded AN Tasrail.

Overnight Australian National Railways went from an organisation controlling just over 2,000 km of track with a total staff of 4,000 employees to the operator of 20% of Australia's rail network. It now controlled 7,890 km of rail track being 2,395 km of broad gauge, 2,812 km of standard gauge and 2,683 km of narrow gauge track. The narrow gauge track included 851 km in Tasmania and 748 km on South Australia's isolated Eyre Peninsula system. The remainder of the narrow gauge tracks were two short lines in the Mid North of South Australia radiating from Peterborough and Gladstone and the famous Ghan line from Marree to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. The total number of employees numbered just over 12,000.

Australian National Railways was a federal government owned corporation and, in 1978 the Fraser Government made it clear it was expected to achieve a financial break-even point during the next 10 years. This decision was unique in Australia's railway history because with the exception of Commonwealth Railways, all the State systems were running at a loss, being financially supported by their respective governments. The Commission appointed a professional engineer with overseas experience as General Manager in a break from the traditional railway practice of making such appointments from within the organisations.

The Commission's first Corporate Plan in 1979 set out six ways that the Commission was to pursue if it was to survive. These were:

  • concentrating its marketing drive on bulk traffic, inter-capital freight and major city freight
  • seeking agreement to cease services where there is little or no demand for the services
  • rationalisation of services and withdrawal of services not effectively demanded
  • implement technological changes in all areas of railway operation particularly track maintenance
  • acquire larger and more efficient locomotives and rolling stock to operate trains at maximum capacity
  • pursue a vigorous policy directed towards staff reductions and more efficient use of manpower

In 1980 a delegation of senior staff and led by the General Manager visited North America to examine current railway practices. In Canada the delegation had talks with Canadian National Railway (which like Australian National was government-owned) and Canadian Pacific Railway. In the United States contact was made with Chessie System and Southern Pacific Railroad. The areas looked at included marketing and pricing, finance and planning, engineering and staff training.

In October 1980 a new standard gauge line from Tarcoola to Alice Springs opened replacing the narrow gauge Central Australian Railway which closed in December 1980. In December 1982 the Adelaide to Crystal Brook line was converted to standard gauge.

Ownership of the Queanbeyan to Canberra railway line was transferred to the State Rail Authority in May 1985.[1]


Australian National Railways inherited the following diesel locomotive classes:

  • Tasmanian Government Railways: X, Y, Z, Za

Built new for Australian National were the AL, BL, DL, EL and AN classes all for standard gauge use.

Also purchased were five T class locomotives from V/Line in 1993 that were reclassed as CKs.[2]


Australian National operated Roadrailers under the Trailerail brand

Following the formation of National Rail, Australian National's interstate freight operations and rolling stock were transferred in 1994.

In November 1996, the Federal Government announced a major rail reform package that included the sale of Australian National.[3]

In August 1997, the Federal Government announced The Ghan, Indian Pacific and Overland passenger services had been sold to Great Southern Rail,[4] the South Australian intrastate services to Genesee & Wyoming Australia and AN Tasrail to the Australian Transport Network.[5]

In July 1998, the railway infrastructure operated by Australian National's Track Access division, was transferred to the federal government owned Australian Rail Track Corporation.[6]

In October 2000, following the resolution of outstanding issues relating to property and employee compensation Australian National was wound up.[7]


  1. ^ "Canberra Line Handover" Railway Digest May 1985 page 136
  2. ^ "South Australian Motive Power Update" Railway Digest October 1994 page 14
  3. ^ Sale of Australian National Railways Commission Department of Infrastructure and Transport
  4. ^ Great Southern Railway Consortium completes acquisition of Australian National Railways Passenger Business Serco Group plc 31 October 1997
  5. ^ "AN Sale: Private Owners Go From Zero to Three" Railway Digest October 1997 page 8
  6. ^ Annual Report 30 June 1999 Australian Rail Track Corporation
  7. ^ "Australian National calls it a day" Railway Digest December 2000 page 19

Further Reading[edit]

  • Australian National Railways Commission (1991) The Long Haul - Australian National 1978-1988 Focus Books, Double Day ISBN 1-875359-08-7