Emerson claims that without action, taxpayer funding of QR would need to increase from A$ 1.6bn ($US 1.7bn) to A$ 1.9bn over the next two years.

The change to a statutory authority will allow the minister to exercise tighter and more direct control when initiating changes within QR.

There has been a mixed reaction to the move with some observers suggesting it is a prelude to further privatisation, while others believe that the organisation has scope for greater efficiency and productivity, especially in areas such as suburban train crewing and station staffing where there has been little change in working practices in recent years.

"Transferring from a government-owned corporation to a statutory authority brings [QR] closer to government, not privatisation," Emerson says. "Passengers won't notice any changes and all staff contracts and benefits will continue."

QR is the part of the state's rail business that remains under government ownership after the 2010 privatisation of the QR National freight business (now Aurizon). It is responsible for Brisbane's suburban rail services and the state's regional passenger services, together with management of around 7000km of track outside the major coalfields.

The high cost of regional passenger services, where distance are far and patronage is low, has been a major issue for successive governments with claims it is the most expensive passenger network per kilometre in Australia.

In February, Emerson launched a review into transport subsidies for travel in regional Queensland across all modes which it is thought could spell the end for some of Queensland's underutilised long-distance passenger trains. The review, which is expected to be finalised later this year, will not include the Cairns – Rockhampton tilting train services on the coastal route north of Brisbane.