WA Business News feature on Freo Ports and Transport

Last week WA Business News ran a 12-page feature on Port and Transport with Fremantle at the centre of these key infrastructure challenges. There were quite a few articles but I have posted one below by Dan Wilkie & Mark Pownall. Great to see this issue getting some in depth coverage.

You also would have seen Prof Newman making the case for an early investment in an outer harbour in the West


The worst result would be a road only freight freeway as far as Marmion Street as planned. Let’s hope we get some better long term planning than that for Perth’s most expensive ever road project.

Policy failure clogs city streets

CONGESTION remains the big urban issue for

policy makers in Perth, where the population hit 2 million last month, but

observers are wondering what is being done about it amid predictions

the number of residents is likely to more than double in just 35 years.

This week, a report by demographer Bernard Salt based on

Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed that Perth’s population

was estimated to rise to more than 4.6 million by 2050, bumping

Brisbane as the country’s third largest city.

While that news might elicit groans from Perth residents

already seeking to cope with crowded roads and packed trains,

attractions such as lifestyle and the relatively steady Western

Australian economy provided by resources are likely to keep

attracting people, albeit not necessarily at the pace of the past

decade. Importantly, the consequences

of congestion are a lot more than inconvenience for commuters – a

2007 federal government report estimated that by 2020, gridlock in

Perth could cost the WA economy $2.1 billion.

Motoring organisation RAC of WA backs spending on public

transport. It is critical of the shift from the visionary planning

that set the Perth development agenda in the middle of past century

to the short-term thinking of 2015, which has led to the state

government dropping the ball on infrastructure already vital to

meet current demand, let alone future needs.

RAC group chief executive Terry Agnew said the state government

launched a draft Public Transport for Perth in 2013 plan and talked

about a Moving People Network Plan, neither of which appears to

have progressed.

In 2011, when the draft public transport plan was launched, the

government suggested that more than $4 billion would be required

for public transport network and fleet expansion until 2031, and

that annual operating costs will have almost doubled from $690

million to $1.2 billion in 2010-dollar terms.

However instead of progress on these broader plans, the state

government has launched various piecemeal solutions, only

to then put some on the back burner as costs rose or political

will waned.

Some of those solutions that are either under way or soon to commence

include: widening both the Mitchell and Kwinana freeways at

key choke points; the Gateway WA project around Perth Airport; the

upcoming Perth Freight Link; and the $2 billion Forrestfield-Airport

rail link.

But Mr Agnew said even with those upgrades, Perth still had a

clear infrastructure gap.

“That gap will only widen, all projections show that,” Mr Agnew

told Business News.

“If you don’t have these long-range plans how do you get any

investment? “As a result you run the risk of

being reactive and short-term.” Mr Agnew said RAC had

watched the issue of congestion and infrastructure development

closely, even working with the state government on ways to use

technology to better coordinate traffic signals and improve flow.

He said the group was still working through auditor-general

Colin Murphy’s recent report, which criticised state spending

on main roads for not focusing on data that showed its efforts were relieving congestion.

While the report was a largely positive critique of Main Roads’

performance, it also underlined there was no clear plan forward

to deal with congestion issues.

The report showed that neither the Department of Transport nor

Main Roads had set objectives or performance targets to manage

congestion, while Main Roads also doesn’t actually know if its

road upgrade programs improve the issues.

However, Main Roads did develop a Traffic Congestion

Management Strategy in 2013, identifying 49 projects and initiatives

to address congestion, but the auditor-general said it was not

clear how those were selected or prioritised.

“One thing that initially hit us was this whole question of

coordination across departments,” Mr Agnew said.

“That goes back, again, to ‘where is the blueprint?

“There is not a lot in the past five decades that lays out that

sort of blueprint. “Are Main Roads doing that?

According to the auditor-general’s report they are, but it is part of the

issue that there is not grand plan that they can hook their decisions

back to.”

While the RAC wants to see a long-term plan, it also believes

there are immediate requirements, with the shelved light rail

line proposed from the CBD to Mirrabooka a project that ought

to be restarted as a priority.

In fact, apart from a few items, including spending on cycleways,

the RAC matches its rhetoric on the bigger picture by avoiding too

much project-by-project analysis.

It wants to see the curren ttransport network better utilised

by technology that offers a great deal more bang for the buck

across the whole of Perth.

The RAC also wants to see the federal government give back

more to the state in funds it extracts from WA motorists.

In a call reminiscent of the current GST debate, the RAC claims

just 41 cents in every dollar paid in motoring taxes such as the fuel

excise are returned to WA. The rest is spent on east coast projects,

mainly roads.

Port problems

Aside from the Mitchell and Kwinana freeways, one of the

bigger choke points in Perth is around Fremantle Port, as well as

the major roads that feed into it.

About 2,600 trucks access Fremantle Port each day, with delays

due to congestion becoming a serious issue around Stirling Bridge

and Tydeman Road, particularly in peak hour.

Improving access to the port is a clear priority of the state government,

through the Perth Freight Link – a $1.6 billion upgrade to Roe

Highway, Stock Road, Leach Highway and Stirling Highway.

The road has been flagged to become Perth’s first toll road,

although only heavy vehicle users will be charged to use it.

But Mr Agnew said he was wary of the introduction of toll

roads in WA without a ground-up approach to way roads are funded,

to ensure the cost was equitable and its use as a price signal was


“Otherwise it is just another tax,” he said. “It needs to start with ‘what is

the model’?”

Notwithstanding the toll debate, Fremantle Mayor Brad

Pettitt said the project, which has been facilitated by $925 million

in federal government funding, would do little to address congestion


Mr Pettitt said it was fair to say the Perth Freight Link was a

project that took all the key stakeholders largely by surprise.

“We’ve always supported having some upgrades to that

road, that certainly has to occur, but the level of upgrade

where we’re actually creating a freeway-style road though Roe

Highway, almost to the port, is one that has never actually been

entertained at any level of government before,” Mr Pettitt told

Business News.

“It’s extraordinarily expensive but it doesn’t integrate rail and

doesn’t actually reach the port; it’s a road that goes three quarters

of the way to the port and then stops.

“Stirling Bridge is already one of the key congestion points of the freight link, and this doesn’t

resolve that key congestion point.

“It merely means trucks can drive faster until they get to the

bridge, but they will get stuck on the same bridge.”

Mr Pettitt said the Perth Freight Link was a prime example of how

policy responses to congestion were missing the mark, largely

because they were narrowly focused on roads instead of an

integrated transport strategy.

He said the City of Fremantle was committed to keeping the

port as a working port, but access issues needed to be addressed

by putting more freight on rail, rather than roads.

“At the moment, the only way to get freight out of the port (on rail)

is over the passenger rail line,” Mr Pettitt said.

“That has to be shared with passenger rail, so that means freight

can’t run during the day most of the time because the gaps

between the passenger trains aren’t long enough.

“Then it runs through the west end of Fremantle and down past

South Beach, using some very nice coastal land.

“That’s no longer the optimum route for freight on rail, and it

should be looked at as part of an integrated transport plan, but

there’s been none of that.

Stirling Bridge is already one of the key Congestion points of the freight link,

and this doesn’t resolve that key congestion point – Brad Pettitt

“It’s simply a road project ._ all building bigger roads does is defer congestion

a couple of years into the future at great expense.

“The only way you can support this road as a good investment of public funds is if it

was actually part of an integrated transport

plan that included rail.”

Light rail saviour?

Another key plank of a whole-of-network approach to tackling the city’s congestion

conundrum, according to Committee for Perth chief executive Marion Fulker, is the

recently shelved light rail network (more details page 18).

The state government is examining the possibility of providing a link to Mirrabooka

through a rapid bus network, but a recent Committee for Perth research report

revealed light rail would not only provide more of a financial benefit, it would also be

more efficient at moving people.

The report predicted that, by 2031, the percentage of commuters travelling to the

city using public transport would increase from 47 per cent to nearly 70 per cent.

Ms Fulker said buses would not attract enough commuters to bridge that gap, while

they also would not have the knock-on effects to reduce congestion that building

a light rail network would.

“Light rail is not just a mobility solution, it also starts to facilitate density around

appropriate locations,” Ms Fulker said.

“Developers take their cue from the government.

“The government puts the infrastructure in the ground and developers know that’s

where the opportunity is. A bus system is not going to produce that.”

The City of Fremantle also recently floated its own plans for a light rail network,

to link the port city more closely with the Cockburn Coast, Murdoch and

Cockburn Central.

But Mr Pettitt said the launch of that proposal earlier this year had prompted no

response from the state government.

“We’ve been pragmatic in knowing that, given that MAX had been shelved, this project

wasn’t going to happen soon,” he said.

“But we realise that good transport planning is about mapping out your transport

routes for decades ahead, so when the political and the funding sources align that you’re

ready to go and you can do these projects.

“Having light rail running to the south and east of us is essential for Fremantle’s

future, and it will happen.

“It’s just a question of when rather than if, and that’s why it is important that we made

it really clear that it is one of the council’s key strategic priorities going forward.”

WA Business News

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

6 Responses to WA Business News feature on Freo Ports and Transport

  1. Tommo East Freo says:

    I’m surprised that every single person living on Silas and Duke Streets is not screaming about the Perth freight link. They will all take a 400k haircut on the value of their property if this goes ahead.

  2. freoview says:

    It is a serious worry that State Government does not have long-term strategies to deal with ever and fast increasing traffic on our roads. Instead of investing in roads and truck toll roads, we should be prioritising lightrail where viable and rapid bus transport in other areas. Piecemeal governance is detrimental to our future.

  3. Diana Ryan says:

    I think the problem, in part, Brad, is that while you think Freo is some kind of major player, and there has long been a rather tiresome bias for the reporters to report on Freo to the almost mass exclusion of other areas of Perth – and you and Peter Newman co-ordinate regularly to gain as much exposure as possible in our rather media outlets, the reality is Fremantle simply isn’t a priority for the rest of Perth.

    Freo isn’t and hasn’t ever been a metropolitan priority for light rail – the case just isn’t there – and the numbers for the future that you think are so dazzling pale in to insignificance against the growth forecasts for Armadale and Gosnells – I nearly fell of the chair when I saw them just a week ago! (You may recall Armadale Rail Line was slated to have two additional rail stations built on to it… and of course our major growth in Perth is to the north).

    However, at the end of the day you seem to think it is the govt’s responsibility to “ensure” Freo’s future by providing it a light rail, and I tend to think this is where the whole thing fall’s down – especially given you are better serviced for public transport than most other areas of Perth and still these provision isn’t as patronised as it should be. All flavours of govt would be aware of that, too.

    I’ve always meant to ask you, Brad – what came first? The use of the café strip by buses, as a thoroughfare, or the flocking of the strip with cafe’s?

    BTW, have you looked in to the technologies that could close the gap between the end of the toll road and the port (or even at a point higher up the chain) such as NSW ports may do, ie, maglev or Electromagnetic Cargo Conveyors?

    Essentially, it doesn’t seem as though this call for rail to replace X is going to happen. I’m not hearing the word from either of the major state parties. Many more years could be lost, including a compromise point? Not too many of the above, but Freo could be a first – and all parties could contribute financially towards it.


    • Freo does matter in this case because it is the only container port in state.
      The point that i think the article makes well is that an integrated strategy is what is still missing. The City of Freo is stepping in to fund and do some of this research in the absence of what i think is good integrated transport and land use planning and the dumbed down imapacts we will get for generations.
      Not sure what technologies might be used to get 1.2million containers the final 500m across the river other than fatter roads and bridges if we don’t get the rail aspect right.

      • Diana Ryan says:

        I will make the points to deaf ears that (1) the above isn’t an answer to my questions, or much of an answer at all – and generating light weight media is just more pulp, (2) funding more research is still the lightweight end, and (3) you have a partner in planning now, Committee for Perth, who serve as a membership base for many of the types of corporations that freight in through Freo. Is it yours and the CfP’s intention to address what these corporations can contribute to reducing traffic and emissions through the City of Fremantle, such as contributing towards maglev or electromagnetic conveyors or putting pressure on operators to alter vehicles? Or is it just going to be another round of research, lighteweight articles, and another 30 years of doing little but this? You appear to be getting nowhere by flogging the same old horse. What is your plan B?

        And I would like the question answered please – what came first – the use of what is now the café strip to conduct buses through, or the cafes that flock the sides of that road? You must know.

      • Diana
        Future Freo through CfP isn’t funded in that way so our focus on getting an upgraded inland freight rail route or an outer harbour built earlier with a lower inner harbour cap is still most likely to succeed options in my view. Maglev – not so much.
        On the cafe strip buses were their before coffee i think but far fewer than we have today.

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