Looking at China’s rail a must when rebuilding ours Huge economic boon Defence analysis
i t b a r e l y rated a mention in Australia, China moved earlier this month to sack the powerful head of its Ministry of Rail.
Since 2003, 58-year-old Liu Zhijun had controlled the state monopoly which has been described as being run like a ‘‘ military regime’’, with over two million employees, its own judicial system, a 72,000 strong police force and a dedicated telecommunications system.
China’s rail network is also a key element of its defence strategy.
The daily operations of the Ministry of Rail have long been of interest to foreign military intelligence analysts, who tracked the deployment of People’s Liberation Army units through rail movements.
Unti l hi s r e moval Li u masterminded the Ministry of Rail’s multi-national business operations and China’s board has to be seen to be believed, but some lines will need to be rebuilt rather than repaired, and at immense cost.
What this damage has highlighted is that Australia’s rail system is not a network in the Chinese or European sense, but rather a set of unconnected, linear rail systems, further hampered by the colonial legacy of different rail gauges.
Inland towns are used to having rail operations interrupted by damage to tracks, but this time Queensland faced the unedifying spectacle of cities like Townsville having to be replenished by sea and air, and then being unable to move essential supplies to outlying communities because road, rail and even air access were cut.
There was a time when the Australian Army enjoyed considerable rail expertise, even operating its own limited lines and maintaining its own rolling stock, but after pressure f rom rail unions among others, this expertise has largely been lost.
Perhaps it is now time to revisit Australia’s future rail needs from both civilian and defence perspectives.
Even at the height of the Allied air campaign in World War II, Germany was able to move trains through its complex rail network, despite suffering extensive bomb damage.
China could no doubt do the same.
A series of severe weather events so crippled Queensland’s rail network, it may be years before it is fully restored.
Massive investment in rail i n f r a s t r u c t u r e n o t o n l y makes good strategic sense it could also, just as in China’s case, be a major economic generator, particularly in communities like Townsville.