Road transport key for cotton says BITRE report

Queensland roads take on most cotton movements, most exports through Brisbane

Road transport key for cotton says BITRE report
Australia is the world's fourth largest cotton exporter - and almost half goes through Brisbane


More than two-thirds of Australia’s total cotton production is transported by road, according to new data released by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE).

The bureau points to an existing paucity of detailed information on rural and agricultural transport tasks as an impetus for the report.

According to BITRE’s Freightline 5 report, 550.9 kilotonnes of raw cotton fibre was produced in Australia in 2015-16 – and over 99 per cent of this was exported – making Australia the world’s fourth-largest cotton exporter.

Once cotton is picked and baled on a farm, the bales are taken to a cotton gin – a factory which separates the raw cotton fibre from the cottonseed, stalks and seed hulls – before being baled again and warehoused until they are sold.

BITRE says the total cotton transport task was about 389 million tonne kilometres in 2015–16, with approximately 67 per cent of this transported via road.

The bureau also says that the movement of cotton from farms to gins was almost entirely performed by road transport.

"For this purpose, road haulers use articulated semi-trailer, B-double or A-double road vehicles for transport of cotton," BITRE said.

"Rail transportation of cotton is not as prevalent, with one of the possible reasons being that very few gins have direct access to rail sidings."

"BITRE estimates total rail movements of cotton were approximately 99.6 million tonne kilometres in 2015–16 with total road freight movements estimated to have been 289.5 million tonne kilometres," the bureau said.

Brisbane was the site of 48 per cent of all cotton exports, followed by Sydney and Melbourne at 28 per cent and 23 per cent respectively, and is mostly grown in NSW (65 per cent) and Queensland.

BITRE says 79.1 per cent of cotton taken to Brisbane was taken by road, as well as 60.6 per cent of the cotton taken to Melbourne and 52 per cent of that taken to Sydney – 366.9kt of the total 547.4kt exported in 2015-16.

It is worth noting that two of the three major routes used to access the port of Sydney were used by both road and rail — and that numbers are split fairly evenly between the two transport modes.

Another reading of the study shows that cotton transport volumes are heaviest coming north-east through NSW, up through Goondiwindi and heading east through Cecil Plains. 

With the forecast Inland Rail project set to upgrade tracks from Narrabri to Gworie and new trackis from Toowoomba through to Acacia Ridge, rail could become a more attractive option in future.

The full report can be found here.

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