Document Type

Book Chapter


Australia has one of the most road-dominated transport systems in the world, though this was not always the case. In the first half of the 20th century, extensive rail systems were developed in all cities and throughout rural areas. The constitution of the new country, formed in 1901, recognized the rail system as the glue joining the states together. However, the federal government never took full responsibility for the system and hence a unique mix of railway gauges and parochial state-based concerns were allowed to override the national interest throughout the 20th century. By 1950 these rail systems were in decline but, rather than invest in their upgrading, Australia chose the road for its future land transport needs. As the tarmac was rolled out cars, trucks and buses were given priority. Country rail lines were closed, trams were all but scrapped (apart from in Melbourne) and rail in general went into a holding pattern, unable to compete with road transport. In the last quarter of the 20th century the federal government began a massive investment in a national highway system. From 1975 to 1999 the federal government poured Aus$43 billion into roads, a mere Aus$I.2 billion into rail and Aus$l.3 billion into urban public transport (Laird et al, 2001). Little wonder that Australians followed the bitumen trails rather than the rail systems. As seen by the federal Bureau of Transport Economics (BTE, 1999), 'total travel in the urban areas of Australia has grown remarkably - almost nine-fold over 50 years. Almost all of that growth came from cars and "other" road vehicles .. .'