The transport infrastructure challenge for Australia

Article3min08 May 2018By Louis White

With all the talk about the digital economy, we’re in danger of forgetting that good road, rail, air and sea port infrastructure underpins our economic future.


Australia’s far-flung but highly urbanised population of about 24 million people – forecast by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to rise as high as 42.5 million by 2056 (8 per cent over the next five years) - presents a challenge to policy makers and to planners of the country’s transport infrastructure.

The design and structure of transportation to and from major population hubs will be crucial to the growth of businesses, to residential development, and to people’s ability to commute not only to and from cities, but from suburb to suburb and business hub to business hub.

For Infrastructure Australia, the key to co-ordinating infrastructure development is achieving consensus on the key priorities for nationally significant investment.

As a result of consultation with key levels of government in each state and territory, an Infrastructure Priority List has been drawn up, and is regularly updated.

“The key themes primarily include a focus on a timetable-free turn-up-and-go mass passenger metro services – similar to what is available in cities like New York, Singapore, London and Berlin – efficient and well integrated road and passenger rail networks, and streamlined national and state-based freight networks that operate independently from passenger rail networks,” says an Infrastructure Australia spokesperson.

“To meet our future population needs and take advantage of our unique position in the Asia Pacific, we will need to transform our infrastructure base and invest in new nation-shaping projects and policies.”

Focus on exports

Infrastructure Australia believes it’s important to focus on strengthening Australia’s role as an exporter of resources, services and products, with improved networks and gateways that boost connectivity. Such a strategy acknowledges that we are a highly urbanised nation. It would enhance the liveability of our cities and foster the skilled jobs and innovative businesses that cities create. A focus on exports would also underpin the sustainability of future growth.

"To meet our future population needs and take advantage of our unique position in the Asia Pacific, we will need to transform our infrastructure base and invest in new nation-shaping projects and policies."

Infrastructure Australia

The Australian Logistics Council is the peak body representing major and national companies in the heavy vehicle, freight transport and logistics supply chain.

ALC concentrates on five key issues: supply chain logistics safety, infrastructure, regulation, technology and people.

High performing supply chains, underpinned by consistent regulation, appropriate national infrastructure and seamless information transfer across the freight logistics industry, enable the smooth flow of goods from production to consumption.

“The key is to get the planning right from the beginning of the process,” says Michael Kilgariff, ALC Managing Director.

“Many of the challenges we see today relating to traffic congestion, or tensions between freight logistics operators and residents in local communities have their genesis in poor planning decisions made in the past.

“It’s long been said that the problem is ‘freight doesn’t vote’. Accordingly freight movement is often not given proper consideration in our planning systems – and invariably loses out to residential interests in situations where there are disputes. This is particularly noticeable around major freight transport hubs – ports, airports and rail freight terminals.inability of future growth.


Input from the industry will help to provide better integration for freight movement in the broader transport network.


Tough choices needed

“That needs to change. The National Transport Commission anticipates that our national freight task will increase by 26 per cent over the next decade.

"With road and rail networks in our major cities already bumping up against capacity constraints, it will be difficult to accommodate such growth if decision-makers simply give in to political pressure from activist groups."

The ALC believes that governments at all levels need to more closely involve the freight logistics industry in discussions about major infrastructure projects – and do it early in the process. In particular, preserving and protecting key freight transport corridors must assume a higher planning priority.

Input from the industry will help to provide better integration for freight movement in the broader transport network. It will also promote greater efficiency and safety in both our supply chains and our transport networks.

“In November 2016, the federal government announced it would develop a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy – an initiative that had been long championed by ALC,” Kilgariff points out.

“The consultation process for the inquiry that will inform the development of the strategy is now underway, and ALC is working closely with industry to highlight the issues the final strategy needs to address.

“Obviously, the need to invest in infrastructure remains a significant issue – which is why ALC welcomed the significant investments last year’s federal budget made in both the Inland Rail and Western Sydney Airport.

“With those investments made, it’s now critical to get the detailed planning right on both these projects, so that Inland Rail is a dedicated port-to-port rail freight solution between Melbourne and Brisbane, and so that Western Sydney Airport links as seamlessly as possible with other key freight facilities in Sydney, such as Port Botany and the new Moorebank Intermodal terminal.”

ALC believes there is a need for the federal government to take a greater leadership role in planning policy.

“Australia operates as a single national economy, and our supply chains don’t stop at state borders,” says Kilgariff. 

“Accordingly, we have to promote greater national consistency in the planning and regulatory frameworks that govern the movement of freight across all modalities – road, rail, shipping and air freight.”

Infrastructure Australia High Priority Projects

Sydney Metro: City and Southwest (NSW)
M4 motorway upgrade, Parramatta to Lapstone (NSW)
WestConnex (NSW)
Melbourne Metro Rail (Vic)
M80 Ring Road upgrade (Vic)
Ipswich Motorway Rocklea–Darra Stage 1c (Qld)
Western Sydney Airport (NSW)
Perth Freight Link (WA)

Read on for more insights

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