GRAFTON is on the verge of securing a 50 per cent share of a $100million contract to supply concrete sleepers to the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).

The Member for Page, Ian Causley, announced yesterday that Rocla Pty Ltd, which has a concrete sleeper manufacturing facility at Trenayr, had won the contract for the supply of sleepers to improve rail links on the Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane corridor.

Rocla general manager for pipeline products Stephen Baker said the contract had not been signed off, but did not anticipate any problems.

"I think it is all real ... I am just a little hesitant to say anything until it is signed," he said.

Mr Causley said the contract would be for two and a half years, with the possibility of additional orders after that.

"The Grafton plant will service the northern line upgrading, while a similar facility at Mittagong will service the southern track improvements," he said.

"The extra jobs for Grafton will be a huge shot-in-the-arm for the whole region. These jobs will flow as a direct result of the extra investment in land transport under the AusLink program.

"AusLink is a huge plus and is delivering positive outcomes for the region ? this is only the beginning."

Mr Causley said AusLink hoped to increase rail's share on the Melbourne-Brisbane corridor considerably and, by doing so, limit the growth in road traffic.

"Concrete sleepers can carry heavier loads and incur less maintenance costs, and are in keeping with international practice for good track design. They provide a more stable and reliable track and have a longer life with less degradation than timber," he said.

Mr Baker said that in order to meet the demand, Rocla's Grafton and Mittagong plants would both be upgraded.

He said the number of employees at Trenayr would be boosted to about 30.

Rocla had its Clarence beginnings in 1993 after winning a contract to supply sleepers to the former National Rail Corporation.

Most of the employment ended when the contract expired, but it has been operating on a limited capacity for the past three years supplying sleepers to Rail Corp and ARTC.

ARTC chief executive officer, former Grafton resident David Marchant, said sleeper production was expected to start later this month, with supply being available to meet the anticipated re-sleepering program in July.

"Transit times are estimated on the completion of the works in three years to reduce Sydney to Melbourne from 13 hours 10 minutes to 10 hours 40 minutes for 1500 super freighters and 11 hours 30 minutes for 1800-metre super freighters," he said.

"Transit time Sydney-Brisbane for 1500 super freighters will also be cut by four hours.

"Market share for rail North South is expected to rise to 30 per cent over the next 10 years, a 118 per cent increase.

"This massive investment program by ARTC is the largest in many decades on the eastern seaboard and is directed at renewal, rehabilitation and enhancement of the rail network."

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