R2R Meeting a great success

The R2R meeting in Fremantle Council’s packed reception room this afternoon was a great success, with Labor Transport spokesperson Ken Travers telling the  meeting his party does not and will not support the Perth Freight Link.

Other speakers were Sue Bolton from Moreland Council (Victoria), Sam Wainwright from Fremantle Council, Pam Nairn from Save Beeliar Wetlands, Scott Ludlam Federal Senator and Cole Hendrigan from CUSP (Curtin University).   Whilst they all addressed the issues from diferent  standpoints they were all consistent is saying the Perth Freight Link is flawed across all parameters and that freight has to go onto an eficient rail system.

This meeting has prompted me to post some work I did while Fremantle Council was developing its Integrated Transport Strategy. I think it’s still pertinent and aligns well with the presentations.

Freight overview

As with any urban centre Fremantle must accommodate freight transport associated with the city’s commerce. Unlike other urban centres in metropolitan Perth, Fremantle also accommodates freight demands from Fremantle Ports which eclipses all other freight challenges. Thus this section will focus on port related freight transport.

Fremantle Ports

Fremantle is home to Western Australia’s largest and busiest general cargo port. The Inner Harbour currently handles the vast majority of containerised freight imports and exports for the state.

In addition the Inner Harbour also handles trade associated with:

  • Livestock
  • Bulk items such as scrap metal
  • General Cargo
  • RORO including cars, trucks and caravans
  • Cruise ships
  • Non cargo ships such as research and naval vessels

Container transport

The port currently handles 700,000 TEU1 (twenty foot equivalent) containers annually, with strong growth in numbers; most of these are currently transported by truck to and from container yards at Kewdale, Forestfield and Henderson. The State Government has committed to transporting up to 30% of containers by rail. This aspiration is not realised with only 14%2 of containers transported by rail in 2013-14 financial year.

Road transport

The above statistics show 86% of containers are transported by road, in addition to 100% of livestock and scrap metal exports transported by road. The State Government, through its proposed $1.575 billion Perth Freight Link is concentrating its visions on a road based freight solution, with plans to widen existing roads and build new ones between Fremantle and the container yards at Kewdale and Forestfield. More roads do not solve congestion; building freeways increases overall road use and contributes to worsening congestion3.

Rail transport

The current rail infrastructure utilises the existing rail line south, and aging rolling stock. This combination creates noise issues associated with wheel squeal and late night trips to avoid clashing with the passenger rail across the river bridge and through Fremantle Station. Furthermore, this adversely impacts on the potential to use this line for transit (see section on Transit Corridors).

Port growth

Trade through the Inner Harbour is predicted to grow to 1,400,000 TEU4 annually in the next decade, essentially double the current number of TEU. Whilst a container terminal is mooted for the Outer Harbour, progress is limited or non-existent, even with such a facility predictions still have TEU numbers through the Inner Harbour at 1,000,0005 annually.

Opportunities

Analysis of the long-term predictions for container traffic through Fremantle Ports elicits that business as usual is not sustainable. As a result there must be a strategic decision made relating to transport of containers into the future. The State has an opportunity to decide where it will focus its attention and funding for best industry and community outcomes in relation to container and freight transport.

There are two options open to the state, continue to try and build congestion out of the road network, or embark on a strategic piece of rail network that will serve the state well into the future.

Position Statement

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.6

$1.575 billion7 Perth Freight Link is an attempt to do just that. It attempts to solve the congestion problem from transporting hundreds of thousands of containers annually on hundreds of thousands of trucks by transporting even more containers on even more trucks on a more expensive road system. The Perth Freight Link is doomed to failure, it is now internationally accepted that you cannot build yourself out of congestion, so wasting $1.575 billion of taxpayer’s money.

There is urgent need for the development of new rail infrastructure to service the needs of Fremantle Ports into the long-term future. Whilst the route needs to be developed through community consultation and expert advice it is anticipated it will involve replacement of the existing, vulnerable rail bridge, perhaps in conjunction with replacement of the old traffic bridge, and through the use of tunnelling. A tunnel running due south in line with the former Fremantle Easter Bypass reserve and connecting with the freight line adjacent to the old South Fremantle Power station is recommended as a starting point for feasibility studies.

The benefits will be:

  • A long term solution to container freight transport issues and associated road congestion
  • A more cost effective solution for freight transport
  • Saving the high values conservation area, Beeliar Wetlands, from decimation through road building
  • Minimise localised freight impacts
  • Reduction of carbon intensive greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reduction in community health issues related to road trauma and exhaust emissions
  • Better utilisation of existing road infrastructure

It is acknowledged that moving from road to rail for the majority of port related container transport is a medium term infrastructure project that will need support from successive State and Federal Government bodies, as well as private investment (PPP). A good transition management plan will address these issues, and such constraints should not stand in the way of long-term strategic benefits.

Henderson and AMC

The rail solution will not address issues with freight between Fremantle Port and container yards at Henderson and the Australian Marine Complex (AMC). Stock Road is able to cope with this trade, however some operators choose the Hampton Road and Cockburn Road option as a shorter route. Hampton Road is currently a pinch-point in regards to traffic congestion that will become worse with development of the Cockburn Coast Structure Plan area. It is therefore desirable for trucks to use Stock Road. There are no mechanisms to prohibit as-of-right vehicles from using public roads and removing freight from Hampton Road to Stock Road can best be achieved by making Hampton Road a less attractive route. Work needs to done on Hampton Road to make it transit preferred and unattractive to freight operators through traffic management and pavement treatments.

Conclusion

Fremantle is unique in Western Australia insomuch as there are two distinct freight systems, those servicing Fremantle businesses and those servicing Fremantle Port. The existing infrastructure is adequate for domestic demand and non-containerised freight, but not for anticipated growth in port container trade. The current rail infrastructure is better suited to improving transit infrastructure than being used for a compromised freight system. The only feasible long-term solution to the freight issue is to commence investment on new rail infrastructure dedicated to the freight task.

1, 2 & 7                     Dean Nalder                              WA Transport Minister

3                                  Leigh Glover                              University of Melbourne

4 & 5                          Mick McCarthy                        South West Group

6                                  Albert Einstein

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