These will be the first new locomotives to be introduced in Tasmania since 1973.

The locomotives will be powered by series 3500 Caterpillar engines which are designed to meet European Union Stage IIIA emissions. They will have an axleload of 16-18 tonnes and EMD will provide underframes, bogies and traction motors.

With the new locomotives possessing greater power than Tasrail's existing fleet, only two units will be needed to haul a 750-tonne train compared with three to four old locomotives which could only haul a maximum weight of 450 tonnes. Tasrail estimates this will enable it to increase its annual mainline haulage capacity from 1.9 million tonnes to 3.6 million tonnes.

A seven-year $A 137m Tasmanian state grant is being used to fund the purchase of the locomotives. A further

$A 210m is available for infrastructure improvements following a memorandum of understanding between the state and national governments.

Tasrail has already awarded a contract for concrete sleepers and is now tendering for a contract to enhance its train control system. Tenders will be invited during the first half of this year for bulk cement and container wagons, and for a project to overhaul and recommission ore wagons.