Intermodal hub at Port Augusta unlikely, industry says

By: Paul Howell

The industry talks down suggestions Port Augusta could handle Australia’s increasing freight task.

Intermodal hub at Port Augusta unlikely, industry says
Former Australian deputy prime minister Tim Fischer.


Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer has pointed to South Australia’s Port Augusta as the "logical" location for an intermodal transfer hub, but others have warned there are significant obstacles to the idea.

Speaking at a recent Road and Works Conference in SA, Fischer told attendees the port town provided a natural crossroad of road, rail, air, and sea freight capabilities.  

With the national freight task expected to double by 2030, new infrastructure and upgrades to existing facilities would need to continue at speed.

"These things won't happen overnight, but bit by bit, rail and road infrastructure has been upgraded in recent decades," Fischer says.

Port Augusta mayor Sam Johnson agrees with the former politician, saying a hub port will help add to the region’s growing industry.

"As we continue to develop, and our region continues to develop in the resources industry and the renewable energy industry, I think it will eventually become a bit of a no-brainer to do it," he told a local newspaper.

South Australia Freight Council CEO Neil Murphy says the resources sector will certainly demand more freight options, but not for many years down the track.

"This idea seems to be based on freight that has not been realised as yet and mines that have not proceeded towards production and the need for high volumes of inputs in particular," he says.

The idea of an expanded logistics hub at "Australia’s Crossroads" is not a new one, but Murphy warns that simply building new infrastructure will not build a bigger transport industry there.

"Always remember that trains stop for freight, not because there is a train line, a train station, or a community that thinks the train should stop," he says.

"It is a business that needs to make a profit from its investment and if that profit is not obviously available or probable, they will not invest in a terminal and train operators will not stop for freight which won’t be there."

Road transport specialists doubt the hub potential for Port Augusta.

South Australia Road Transport Association executive director Steve Shearer says improving infrastructure in the city will not compensate for the far greater distance that many freight journeys have to cover.

"You’re not going to move a lot of freight by rail to Port Augusta, only to then put it on a truck," he told ATN.

While the Spencer Gulf is already home to some – mostly resources-based – shipping, the waterways leading to Port Augusta are unsuitable for mass freight, Shearer adds.

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