Road project could alter port plan

13/04/2015 - 11:05

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The Perth Freight Link road project could extend the capacity of Fremantle harbour and lead to a rethink on long-term planning for a second container port at Kwinana.

Road project could alter port plan
HEAVY LIFTING: Fremantle harbour handled 703,000 containers in 2013-14. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The Perth Freight Link road project could extend the capacity of Fremantle harbour and lead to a rethink on long-term planning for a second container port at Kwinana.

The ‘outer harbour’ at Kwinana has long been recognised as one of Western Australia’s major infrastructure needs, but its timing and location remain uncertain despite multiple studies over more than a decade.

Detailed planning on construction of the outer harbour was kicked off in 2002 by then planning and infrastructure minister Alannah MacTiernan, whose goal was “to allow this move to begin in the next decade”.

Two years later, when Fremantle Ports chief executive (and current WA governor) Kerry Sanderson launched a community consultation program on the outer harbour, the timetable had slipped.

“Fremantle’s inner harbour is expected to reach its potential capacity within the next 12 or 13 years,” Ms Sanderson said.

“The new container berths will be needed then to handle the over flow trade.”

After the Barnett government was elected in 2008, the planning process continued, albeit with a new timeline.

In 2011, then transport minister Troy Buswell said the inner harbour would reach capacity “in about 10 years”.

Four years on, the project is still about 10 years away, with Transport Minister Dean Nalder stating last October that the outer harbour was expected to be in operation by 2025.

The timing slippage gave the government more time to review its options, with Hyder Consulting and Parsons Brinkerhoff contracted to review future port and industry development on the Kwinana coast.

Business News understands this report, along with an updated metropolitan freight strategy, has gone to cabinet, but there has been no official comment on where the project is headed.

Traffic flow

The timing of the outer harbour will be determined mainly by the rate of growth in container traffic at Fremantle.

Over the 14 years to 2013-14 – which includes a slump in trade during the GFC – the container trade at the inner harbour grew by an average of 6.6 per cent per annum.

The trade reached 703,327 TEUs (standard container units) last financial year, compared with capacity of about 1.2 million.

The ability of road and rail networks to handle the extra freight is also a crucial factor.

The rail line to North Quay usually handles 14-15 per cent of freight each year.

The state government hopes that will increase after a major upgrade of the North Quay rail terminal last year, and has an aspirational target of 30 per cent.

The development of new facilities at Rous Head, by freight and logistics companies including Toll Group and QUBE Holdings, is also designed to boost efficiency.

The Freight and Logistics Council of WA, chaired by transport adviser Fred Affleck, has warned that the trucking industry needs to lift its game.

Citing the 2014 Fremantle port truck survey, which measures trucking efficiency, the council said the results were disappointing, with little improvement in long-standing industry practices.

The council’s annual report, completed two months ago, noted that container trade grew by 11 per cent during 2014, well above the average for the past decade.

“Faced with these sorts of growth rates in trade through the port, it is imperative that truck productivity improves commensurately or heavy vehicles working the port will start to have an unacceptable impact on community amenity,” the council said.

“This need is made the (sic) more important by the announcement during the year of the Perth Freight Link project.

“... the capacity of the inner harbour at Fremantle could potentially be extended beyond where it might otherwise have been because of improved road access.

“That additional capacity will be eroded if truck numbers are increasing at or above trade growth.”

Labor’s transport spokesman, Ken Travers, has urged the government to hasten planning for the outer harbour, suggesting it may be needed closer to 2020 if growth in container trade continues around 10 per cent per year.

He said the economic consequences would be profound if planning was not completed in a timely fashion.

“It’s probably the biggest potential impediment to economic growth in the state,” Mr Travers said.

He said the uncertainty over harbour planning meant now was not a good time for Fremantle Ports’ to put its stevedoring contracts – held by DP World and Patrick – up for tender.

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