Looking at the area around Abbot Point it’s easy to be distracted by particular projects (like Chalco) and miss the fact that some of the most significant developments that are likely to happen in the area are relatively low-profile activities that will come as the port turns into a general cargo/container facility that also handles significant quantities of minerals.
While Townsville and Mackay are the main general cargo ports along this stretch of coastline there are various factors that suggest that at least part of the tonnage they are currently handling could come through a deep water port away from large scale residential development. Both existing ports must have restrictions on the size of ships they can handle, and there is also the fact that cargo going in and out of Townsville currently has to pass through residential areas in South Townsville and Railway Estate. While that may change in the future, the fact that the current harbour in Townsville requires fairly constant dredging will not. On the other hand, cargo passing through Abbot Point could moved by rail to intermediate depots in Townsville, Mackay or the coalfields without too much disruption to highway traffic.
Given factors like oil prices and environmental concerns about greenhouse gases you would expect rail to become the preferred option for moving shipping containers, and you would expect that the main coastal line will be electrified in the foreseeable future.
For that reason, I expect that within the next twenty-five years Abbot Point will, regardless of any other considerations like industrial developments, become a general cargo port handling at least as much cargo as Townsville, and a greater tonnage than Mackay.
More than likely, by that time it will be the major general cargo port north of Gladstone, handling not just coal and alumina, but also minerals from the north-west of the state, along with considerable containerised cargo.
Well, for a start, a glance at the coastal rail line reveals that there are a handful of places where the line crosses the main coastal highway and that the only remaining level crossings are located near the Bowen station and at Brandon. With one minor adjustment to the current rail line, vast quantities of cargo could be moved from Abbot Point to Mackay and the coalfields without inconveniencing highway traffic.
It is highly likely future commercial developments on the south side of Bowen and an increase in traffic associated with them mean that the existing rail line will be realigned so that rail traffic out of Abbot Point crosses the highway using the bridge near Merinda and the line will then continue without crossing the highway until it joins up with the existing line along Bootooloo Road somewhere south of the existing Bowen station.
I think it is also likely that the existing highway will be realigned, skirting around the other side of the existing Bowen airport to avoid the most likely corridor for future commercial expansion, a matter that is discussed elsewhere.
Such adjustments would not necessarily involve relocating the current railway station which could become an important factor when it comes to moving the workforce in and out of Abbot Point and the industrial precinct.
What transpires in that precinct is, of course, a matter of conjecture, and, initially, the subject of the conjecture is Chalco.