Fremantle Port's future questioned after container ship hits bridge in wild stormBy Pamela Medlen and staff, Monday August 18, 2014 - 20:46 EST
The WA Government must act to fix a looming infrastructure disaster involving Fremantle Port bridges, a transport expert says.
A container ship smashed into a rail bridge in Fremantle during a storm overnight, disrupting train services between North Fremantle and Fremantle stations.
The bridge is now being assessed for structural damage by engineers.
Curtin University professor Peter Newman said it was "totally inappropriate" to have a port right next to a major bridge.
"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," he said.
Professor Newman said Fremantle is no longer an appropriate place for a port.
"The port needs to shift to Kwinana. Most container ports move out of cities," he said.
"Now we have this incredibly stupid accident happening it just confirms we've got to advance the proposal to shift the port."
Storm surges, rising sea levels 'threat to bridges'
He said the incident highlighted other problems facing that part of the river, including river and storm surges, and a road and rail bridge with a storm surge barrage was needed to prevent washouts.
"It does need to be taken seriously now that the sea level is rising and we're going to have more storm surges," he said.
Infrastructure Australia, of which Professor Newman is a board member, investigated the issue of the bridges in the past, he said.
"We decided it wasn't a nationally significant issue and not a big enough problem, they must be embarrassed now," he said.
"This is a major issue and needs to be put on the top of the list."
Professor Newman said the State Government has had about 30 years to fix the bridges, but failed to act.
"The reality is the water levels are rising," he said.
"At Fremantle Port it's gone up about 10cm in the past 10 to 15 years and the storm surges are higher, so they can't predict the power that would drive those boats off their moorings."
Professor Newman said if the bridges were left in their current condition, the Government risked having them fall down.
"These are not serious bridges, look around, this is really pathetic that we've got a major port city that depends on these bridges and they're leftover form the 19th Century.
"The rail bridge is a little more solid thank goodness, but it's not going to last if another ship hits it."
He said the bridges came down in the 1950s after a major flood and lives were lost.
'Three years to act on warning system'
Member for Fremantle Simone McGurk said the State Government promised to install an early warning system on the rail line after a ship hit the bridge in 2011.
"They are only just now installing an early warning system to ensure trains stop automatically if the rail bridge is struck by a ship," she said.
"Three years it has taken them to act on that issue and I think that's unacceptable.
"People deserve an absolute safety guarantee that the trains will stop automatically if the bridge is struck."
Ms McGurk said the road traffic bridge adjacent to the rail bridge should also have an early warning system.
"In regard to the traffic bridge, they are not installing that sort of warning system despite successive engineering reports saying the bridge is at an unacceptably high risk of damage or collapse in the event of being struck by a vessel," she said.
"In fact, the traffic bridge needs to be replaced. Ten years ago we had an engineering report saying that bridge needed to be replaced.
"This Government is spending money on expensive repairs, but the bridge needs to be replaced."
The Public Transport Authority said the Fremantle rail bridge could be closed for up to a week.
Tornado rips through Bunbury
Meanwhile, the State Emergency Service (SES) received 32 calls for assistance, mostly from homeowners in Bunbury, after a tornado ripped through the town.
Resident Dave Hayward said the roof of his house in Twilight Street, Carey Park, was blown off in the storm.
"It was just a massive explosion and a flash of light. We heard the thunder coming from across the distance and it came across here and there was an almighty bang and then everything went to chaos. Everything was black," he said.
"In the lounge room water started pouring through the light fittings.
"We can see daylight through them now as all the roof is pretty much gone. My kids helped move my gear out last night, the house is now full of water.
"My car got smashed up in the car port, tiles have gone through the back window.
"The SES couldn't get up on the roof last night was it was too unsafe but they are going to try again this morning and tarp it over.
"In the meantime I am going to have to try and find somewhere else to move into as there is no living here."
© ABC 2014
More breaking news
Canberra has shivered its way through the most cold nights since 1997 and its wettest winter since 2005.
It's the weather phrase that makes the coastal dwellers of New South Wales shudder - East Coast Low.
For most people, spring brings the hope of warm weather.