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.

There’s going to be plenty of debate about Chalco over the next few months, but if you look at the matter realistically there are only three factors that will prevent the Chalco project going ahead.

The first is a groundswell of public opinion large enough to sink the project.

That’s going to be a difficult task and I haven’t seen any sign of the anti-Chalco argument gaining enough traction in the community to succeed.

The second is the Environmental Impact Study, which will need to be done before the development starts.

Personally, given the fact that the previous Federal Government approved the pulp mill in northern Tasmania in spite of very real environmental concerns I wouldn’t be holding my breath and hoping the Chalco development will be rejected on environmental grounds.

The pulp mill, at present, seems unlikely to go ahead because of the third factor that could conceivably stop Chalco - a difficulty in acquiring the finance that is needed to fund the project.

A cynic would suggest that the pulp mill was always going to have difficulty raising the necessary capital and that the failure to reject it on environmental issues was prompted by a desire to hold up the Coalition vote in northern Tasmania at the last Federal election.

While it seems that the pulp mill will, in the end, founder due to an inability to finance the project I doubt that Chalco will have the same problem, even in the current economic environment.

And if the current economic slump is bad enough to bring Chalco to a grinding halt I’d suggest that we’re in for a very nasty time indeed.

In any case, while environmental issues could conceivably affect industrial development around Abbot Point, I think a betting man would be taking very short odds on the general cargo scenario outlined above and that if the Chalco proposal is rejected something else will, eventually, end up in the industrial precinct even if that doesn’t happen as soon as some people might like.