Transport in Australia

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Adults employed in the transport, postal and warehousing industry as a percentage of the adult population in Australia divided geographically by statistical local area, as of the 2011 census

There are many forms of transport in Australia. The nation is highly dependent on road transport. There are more than 300 airports with paved runways. An extensive rail network for passengers connects many rural areas to major metropolitan centres. The mining sector is reliant on rail to transport its product to Australia's ports for export.


Eastern Freeway, Melbourne. Facing inbound.

Australia has the second highest level of car ownership in the world. It has three to four times more road per capita than Europe and seven to nine times more than Asia. Australia also has the third highest per capita rate of fuel consumption in the world. Melbourne is the most car-dependent city in Australia, as of a data survey in the 2010's. Having over 110,000 more cars driving to and from the city each day than Sydney. Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane are rated as being close behind. All these capital cictes are rated among the highest in this category in the world (car dependency).1 Furthermore, the distance travelled by car (or similar vehicle) in Australia is among the highest in the world, being exceeded by USA and Canada.2

There are 3 different categories of Australian roads. They are federal highways, state highways and local roads. The road network comprises a total of 913,000 km broken down into:3

  • paved: 353,331 km (including 3,132 km of expressways)
  • unpaved: 559,669 km (1996 estimate)

Victoria has the largest network, with thousands of arterial (major, primary and secondary) roads to add.

The majority of road tunnels in Australia have been constructed since the 1990s to relieve traffic congestion in metropolitan areas, or to cross significant watercourses.

Public transport in Australia

Rising petrol prices and increasing traffic congestion are thought to be factors contributing to renewed growth in use of urban public transport.4

Intra-city public transport networks

Epping Station on the Sydney Trains network

The table below lists major cities in Australia with currently operating multi-modal intra-city (as opposed to inter-city or regional) public transportation networks.

The only Australian capital cities without multi-modal networks are Canberra and Darwin, which rely entirely on buses. Canberra is planning a light rail line (Capital Metro), which will link with existing bus services, and is expected to be operational in 2018.5

Trams in Australia historically serviced many Australian towns and several cities formerly operated tram networks, however the majority of these were shut down before the 1970s. Melbourne is an exception here however, and today boasts the largest tram network of any city in the world. Major regional cities where trams formerly facilitated multi-modal public transport networks Launceston, Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Rockhampton.

The following table presents an overview of public transport networks in Australia's larger cities. The table does not include tourist or heritage transport modes (such as the private monorail at Sea World or the tourist Victor Harbor Horse Drawn Tram).

City Overview Integrated Network Name Buses Urban rail6 Light rail7 Monorail Watercraft8
Adelaide Public transport in Adelaide Adelaide Metro Yes Yes Yes
Brisbane Public transport in Brisbane Translink Yes Yes Yes
Darwin Public transport in Darwin Yes Limited Access
Gold Coast Public transport on the Gold Coast Translink Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hobart Public transport in Hobart Metro Yes Yes
Melbourne Public transport in Melbourne Public Transport Victoria Yes Yes Yes Limited Access
Newcastle Bus routes in Newcastle, New South Wales Transport for NSW (The Hop) Yes Limited Access
Perth Public transport in Perth Transperth Yes Yes MAX, planned for construction in 2016-2018 Yes
Sydney Public transport in Sydney Transport for NSW (The Hop) Yes Yes Yes Ceased Operations in 2013 Yes

Intercity rail transport

Map of passenger railway services in Australia
State Government owned rail services:
  QR Citytrain and Traveltrain services
  NSW TrainLink services
  V/Line services
  Transwa services
Great Southern Railway lines:
Looking along the Trans-Australian Railway

The railway network is large, comprising a total of 33,819 km (2,540 km electrified) of track: 3,719 km broad gauge, 15,422 km standard gauge, 14,506 km narrow gauge and 172 km dual gauge. Rail transport started in the various colonies at different dates. Privately owned railways started the first lines, and struggled to succeed on a remote, huge, and sparsely populated continent, and government railways dominated. Although the various colonies had been advised by London to choose a common gauge, the colonies ended up with different gauges.

Inter-state rail services

The Great Southern Railway, owned by Serco Asia Pacific, operates three trains: the Indian Pacific (Sydney-Adelaide-Perth), The Ghan (Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin), and The Overland (Melbourne-Adelaide).9 NSW owned NSW TrainLink services link Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne to Sydney. Since the extension of the Ghan from Alice Springs to Darwin was completed in 2004, all mainland Australian capital cities are linked by standard gauge rail, for the first time.

Intra-state and city rail services

There are various state and city rail services operated by a combination of government and private entities, the most prominent of these include V/Line (regional trains and coaches in Victoria); Metro Trains Melbourne (suburban services in Melbourne); NSW TrainLink (regional trains and coaches in New South Wales); Sydney Trains (suburban services in Sydney); Queensland Rail (QR) operating long distance Traveltrain services and the Citytrain network in South-East Queensland, and Transwa operating train and bus services in Western Australia.


Major cities in Australia do not have full-fledged rapid transit systems. Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth's systems are all partially underground. Melbourne has plans for a new train service branded as a metro, but as it will interact with the suburban system and won't be grade-separated from Footscray out, it will fall short of the criteria of a metro. Plans for a "Euro-style" metro in Sydney have been shelved in favor of additional underground lines on the suburban network.

Mining railways

Four heavy-duty mining railways carry iron ore to ports in the northwest of Western Australia. These railways carry no other traffic, and are isolated by deserts from all other railways. The lines are standard gauge and are built to the heaviest US standards.

In 2006, a fifth iron ore railway is proposed by the Fortescue Metals Group, while a sixth common carrier railway is proposed to serve the port of Oakajee just north of Geraldton.

Cane railways

In Queensland about 15 sugar mills have narrow gauge (2 ft (610 mm) gauge) cane tramways that deliver sugar cane to the mills.


There are several pipeline systems including:

Projects under construction or planned:

  • Goulburn River to Sugarloaf Reservoir, Melbourne (North-South Pipeline, alternatively called the Sugarloaf Pipeline) - was connected to Melbourne in February 2010.10
  • Wimmera-Mallee Pipeline - construction commenced in November 2006 and was completed in April 2010.11
  • Melbourne to Geelong Pipeline - construction was completed in March 2012.12
  • Rocklands Reservoir to Grampian Headworks Pipeline (Hamilton - Grampians Pipeline) - construction commenced December 2008, expected completion in 2010.


Australia's inland waterways are not a significant means of commercial transport. In the 19th century, paddle steamers were used on the Murray-Darling Basin to transport produce such as wool and wheat.citation needed However, the water levels of the inland waterways are highly unreliable, making the rivers impassable for large parts of the year.citation needed The steamers proved unable to compete with rail, and later, road transport.citation needed Traffic now on inland waterways is therefore largely restricted to private recreational craft.citation needed

Ports and harbours

Ferries in Sydney
Total employment in the water transport sector (thousands of people) since 1984



Iron ore


Merchant marine vessels

Container crane and ship at the Port of Melbourne

As of 2006, the Australian fleet consists of 53 ships of 1,000 gross register tons or over. The use of foreign registered ships to carry Australian cargoes between Australian ports is permitted under a permit scheme, with either Single Voyage Permit (SVP) or a Continuous Voyage Permit (CVP) being issued to ships.13 Between 1996 and 2002 the number of permits issued has increased by about 350 per cent.14

Over recent years the number of Australian registered and flagged ships has greatly declined, from 75 ships in 1996 to less than 40 in 2007, by 2009 the number is now approaching 30. Marine unions blame the decline on the shipping policy of the Howard Government which permitted foreign ships to carry coastal traffic.15 There have also been cases where locally operated ships have Australian flag from the vessel, registering it overseas under a flag of convenience, then hiring foreign crews who earn up to about half the monthly rate of Australian sailors.14 Such moves were supported by the Howard Government but opposed by maritime unions and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.16 The registration of the ship overseas also meant the earnings of the ships are not subject to Australian corporate taxation laws.15

Statistics for the shipping industry of Australia
Total: 53 ships (1,000 gross register tons (GRT) or over)
Totalling: 1,361,000 GRT/1,532,874 metric tons deadweight (DWT)
Cargo ships
Bulk ships 17
Cargo ship 4
Container ships 1
Roll-on / roll-off ships 5
Liquefied gas tanker ships 4
Chemical tanker ships 3
Petroleum tanker ships 6
Passenger ships
General passenger ships 6
Combined passenger/cargo 7
Source: This article contains material from the CIA World Factbook which, as a US government publication, is in the public domain.


Total monthly arrivals to Australia since 1976
Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport
Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport

Major Australian Airlines:

There are many airports around Australia paved or unpaved. A 2004 estimate put the number of airports at 448. The busiest airports in Australia are:

  1. Sydney Airport Sydney, New South Wales SYD
  2. Melbourne Airport Melbourne, Victoria MEL
  3. Brisbane Airport Brisbane, Queensland BNE
  4. Perth Airport Perth, Western Australia PER
  5. Adelaide Airport Adelaide, South Australia ADL
  6. Gold Coast Airport Gold Coast, Queensland OOL
  7. Cairns Airport Cairns, Queensland CNS
  8. Canberra International Airport Canberra, Australian Capital Territory CBR
  9. Hobart International Airport Hobart, Tasmania HBA
  10. Darwin International Airport, Northern Territory DRW
  11. Townsville International Airport Townsville, Queensland TSV

Airports with paved runways

Total: 305

  • Over 3,047 m (10,000 ft): 10
  • 2,438 to 3,047 m (8,000 to 10,000 ft): 12
  • 1,524 to 2,437 m (5,000 to 8,000 ft): 131
  • 914 to 1,523 m (3,000 to 5,001 ft): 139
  • Under 914 m (3,000 ft): 13 (2004 estimate)

Airports with unpaved runways


  • 1,524 to 2,437 m (5,000 to 8,000 ft): 17
  • 914 to 1,523 m (3,000 to 5,000 ft): 112
  • Under 914 m (3,000 ft): 14 (2004 estimate)


sourced from CIA World Fact Book

Environmental impact

The environmental impact of transport in Australia is considerable. In 2009, transport emissions made up 15.3% of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions. Between 1990 and 2009, transport emissions grew by 34.6%, the second-highest growth rate in emissions after stationary energy.17

Australia subsidizes fossil fuel energy, keeping prices artificially low and raising greenhouse gas emissions due to the increased use of fossil fuels as a result of the subsidiescitation needed. The Australian Energy Regulator and state agencies such as the New South Wales' Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal set and regulate electricity prices, thereby lowering production and consumer cost.

See also


  1. ^ Urban Australia: Where most of us live. CSIRO. Retrieved on 15 July 2012.
  2. ^ "Transport in Australia". iRAP. Retrieved 2009-02-17. 
  3. ^ CIA world fact book.
  4. ^ Use of urban public transport in Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved on 15 July 2012.
  5. ^ "Capital Metro Light Rail Project to be delivered through Canberra’s first large-scale private partnership". Katy Gallagher, ACT Chief Minister. 21 September 2012. Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  6. ^ Includes electrified networks only
  7. ^ includes modern tram networks
  8. ^ includes public ferry and Water taxi services
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Sugarloaf Pipeline Project". Melbourne Water. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  11. ^ "Wimmera Mallee Pipeline". GWMWater. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  12. ^ "Melbourne to Geelong Pipeline". Barwon Water. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  13. ^ Australian Shipowners Association. "Industry Policy". Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  14. ^ a b Paul Robinson (26 March 2002). "Maritime unions slam use of 'cheap' foreign labour". The Age. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  15. ^ a b Martin Byrne (22 October 2009). "A new tanker ship for Australia". Letter from the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers to the Federal Minister. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  16. ^ Liz Porter (14 July 2002). "Shipping out, and definitely not shaping up". The Age. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  17. ^ Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (2010). Australian national greenhouse gas accounts (Report).


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