Fremantle in Western Australia is emerging as a key battleground between a Liberal-National state government committed to building freeways at any cost and a community that wants to see better public transport and an expansion of rail freight.
Container movements at Fremantle Port are predicted to double by 2020, yet the percentage being carried to port by train has declined from 17% in 2007 to 11% in this year. It is predicted to dwindle to 8.5% by next year.
If the Liberal-National coalition had stuck with the previous Labor government’s plan to get 30% of containers on to rail by 2013, it would have taken so many trucks off the road that no new roads would be required.
Instead, the state government is planning several projects that will cost well over $1 billion, including a freeway through the Beeliar wetlands south of Fremantle. It also plans to close more than 720 kilometres of regional railway lines.
Its recently released “Public Transport 2031” draft plan doesn’t propose any significant new passenger infrastructure for the Fremantle region.
Past road building projects have provoked a defensive response, pitting suburb against suburb as people seek to make sure the new road does not go through thei backyard.
To head this off, a group of residents formed the Fremantle Road to Rail (R2R) campaign. It began with a public launch in August that attracted more than 80 people. It has since grown into a vibrant and diverse community group.
On September 17, R2R organised a rally of 80 people outside Fremantle Town Hall. The rally was in response to a government decision to disregard both the result of its own bogus “community consultation” process and Fremantle council’s opposition to a proposed upgrade to the intersection of High St and Stirling Highway.
Speakers at the rally included ALP MLC Sue Ellery, Socialist Alliance and R2R member Annolies Truman, Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren, Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt and public transport advocate Professor Peter Newman.
Rally chair and Fremantle socialist councillor Sam Wainwright said the cost of the proposed roadworks on this one intersection would pay for the repair of all the regional rail lines threatened with closure.
With a state election looming in early 2013, R2R will work hard to make sure the state government pays a heavy price for its destructive transport polices and will argue for the expansion of rail freight and public transport infrastructure.