Scone to get rail overpass as part of election promise

THE new mining tax would be used to pay for an overpass for the rail crossing on the New England Highway at Scone, in a significant election sweetener rolled out by Labor yesterday.

Coal trains rumbling through Scone's level crossings regularly cut the town in two for periods of about eight minutes at a time, frustrating motorists and prompting safety concerns if there was an emergency in the town.

In April, the federal government ruled out even considering an overpass for at least another three years but backflipped yesterday, saying planning would start before the year was out.

A spokesman for Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese said in April there was no money available for the highway rail overpass, but the project might be considered in the 2013-14 spending program.

Mr Albanese hit the campaign trail yesterday and, accompanied by Member for the Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon, announced $2 million to plan the project, out of the $6 billion Regional Infrastructure Fund.

"This commitment from federal Labor is a tribute to the strong and persistent representations from Joel Fitzgibbon, a local member with a reputation for being a fierce advocate for the needs of the Hunter," Mr Albanese said.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the anticipated increase in mining activity was expected to cut the town off even more and an overpass was the solution.

"It is important to recognise that these are the kinds of projects we will be funding under the minerals resource rent tax," he said.

Nationals candidate for the seat of Hunter, Michael Johnsen, pointed out the Coalition had also promised to fund an overpass at Scone, which was announced earlier this week.

"One key point is that our commitment is not contingent upon the mining tax," he said.

"We see no need to blackmail the industry and its workers when, the ARTC [Australian Rail Track Corporation] has, for the last two years, predicted a problem on the Scone level crossing."

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