Will Bridge Disaster Imperil Fremantle Port?

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
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A collision between a container ship and a rail bridge near Fremantle Port during stormy weather in the south of Western Australia has revived concerns about the state of infrastructure in the area, as well as calls from some for the port to be relocated completely.

The storm, which saw wind speeds reach 122 kilometres per hour, snapped the stern rope of a ship containing a cargo of automobiles, causing it to slam into the Fremantle rail bridge.

The rail bridge has since been closed in order to permit structural engineers to conduct a thorough investigation. The Public Transport Authority said that the bridge could remain shut for as long as a week, disrupting rail services in the region.

This is not the first time that a shipping collision has triggered concerns about the structural integrity of the bridge, with a refuelling bridge colliding with the structure in 2011.

This last collision arrives less than a month after Western Australian media leaked a report by engineering consultancy Arup warning that the Fremantle Traffic Bridge was at risk of collapse in the case of a vessel collision due to its age and poor condition.

Experts now point out that the infrastructure configuration of Fremantle Port makes it highly susceptible to accidents of this nature, and that it may be prudent to move the port to a different location completely.

Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University and a board member of Infrastructure Australia, said the location of the port adjacent to a major bridge was “totally inappropriate,” and that incidents of this nature are inevitable in future.

“It was an accident waiting to happen, and we’re very lucky that the boats didn’t go completely through and demolish both bridges because this road bridge is well overdue to be replaced,” Newman told ABC News.

Newman said that the “incredibly stupid accident” vindicated calls for the Fremantle Port to be moved to a more appropriate location at Kwinana, around 38 kilometres south of the Perth CBD.

The proximity of bridges to Fremantle Port aren’t the only problem besetting infrastructure around the Swan River. According to Newman, rising sea levels are imperilling roads, rail lines and bridges in the area, necessitating extensive measures to safeguard their operation.

Water levels have risen roughly 10 centimetres at Fremantle Port in just the past decade, leading to the more powerful storm surges that have caught port operators off guard.

Newman said that without concerted action, bridges in the area are at risk of collapsing, and that erecting new road and rail bridges with storm surge barriers should be made an urgent priority for the state government.

“These are not serious bridges…this is really pathetic that we’ve got a major port city that depends on these bridges and they’re leftover from the 19th century,” he said.

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