Australia Transport

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There are many forms of transport in Australia. Australia is highly dependent on road transport. There are more than 300 airports with paved runways. Passenger rail transport includes widespread commuter networks in the major capital cities with more limited intercity and interstate networks. The Australian mining sector is reliant upon rail to transport its product to Australia’s ports for export.


The Eastern Freeway, Melbourne. Facing inbound.

The Eastern Freeway, Melbourne. Facing inbound.

Road transport is an essential element of the Australian transport network, and an enabler of the Australian economy. There is a heavy reliance on road transport due to Australia’s large area and low population density in considerable parts of the country.

Another reason for the reliance upon roads is that the Australian rail network has not been sufficiently developed for a lot of the freight and passenger requirements in most areas of Australia. This has meant that goods that would otherwise be transported by rail are moved across Australia via road trains. Almost every household owns at least one car, and uses it most days.

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, according to a data survey in the 2010s. 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 cities are rated among the highest in this category in the world (car dependency). The distance travelled by car (or similar vehicle) in Australia is among the highest in the world, being exceeded by USA and Canada.

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:

  • 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

Commuter train in Melbourne

Commuter train in Melbourne

Commuter rail

Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide have extensive commuter rail networks which have grown and expanded over time. Australian commuter rail typically operates with bidirectional all day services with Sydney and Melbourne’s systems operating with much higher frequencies, particularly in their underground cores. Sydney Trains operates the busiest system in the country with approximately 1 million trips per day. Metro Trains Melbourne operates a larger system albeit with a lower number of trips.



Alstom Citadis and Flexity Classictrams in Adelaide

Alstom Citadis and Flexity Classictrams in Adelaide

Trams and light rail

Trams have historically operated in many Australian towns and cities, with the majority of these being shut down before the 1970s in the belief that more widespread car ownership would render them unnecessary. Melbourne is a major exception and today has the largest tram network of any city in the world. Adelaide has also retained one tram service – the Glenelg Tram that runs from Hindmarsh through the CBD to Glenelg Beach. Trams had operated in a number of major regional cities including Ballarat, Bendigo, Brisbane, Broken Hill, Fremantle, Geelong, Hobart, Kargoorlie, Launceston, Maitland, Newcastle, Perth, Rockhampton, Sorrento, Sydney and St Kilda.


A modern light rail system opened in Sydney in 1997 with the conversion of a disused section of a freight railway line into what is now part of the Dulwich Hill Line. A second CBD and South East Light Rail line in Sydney is currently under construction and is due to open in 2019. A light rail system opened on the Gold Coast in 2014. Other light rail systems are scheduled to open in 2018-19 in Newcastle and Canberra.

Opal and Myki smartcard ticketing used for travel in Sydney and Melbourne

Opal and Myki smartcard ticketing used for travel in Sydney and Melbourne

Rapid transit

Major cities in Australia do not have full-fledged rapid transit systems, however a driverless rapid transit line serving Sydney’s north-west is currently under construction. Early works have also begun for an extension through the Sydney Central Business District and the south-west. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth’s commuter systems are all partially underground and reflect some aspects of typical rapid transit systems, particularly in the city centres.

Intra-city public transport networks

The following table presents an overview of multi-modal intra-city public transport networks in Australia’s larger cities. The only Australian capital cities without multi-modal networks are Canberra and Darwin, which rely entirely on buses. Canberra is building a light rail line, which will link with existing bus services, and is scheduled to open in 2018. 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).

CityOverviewIntegrated Network NameBusesUrban rail/Commuter rail[6]Light railWatercraftRapid transit
AdelaidePublic transport in AdelaideAdelaide MetroYesLimitedYes
BrisbanePublic transport in BrisbaneTranslinkYesYesYes
CanberraPublic transport in CanberraYesUnder constructionP1
DarwinPublic transport in DarwinYesLimited
Gold CoastPublic transport on the Gold CoastTranslinkYesYesYes
HobartTransport in HobartMetroYesYes
MelbournePublic transport in MelbournePublic Transport VictoriaYesYesYesLimited
NewcastleTransport in Newcastle“Transport”YesLimitedPlannedP2Limited
PerthPublic transport in PerthTransperthYesYesYes
SydneyPublic transport in Sydney“Transport”YesYesYesYesUnder constructionP3


  • P1 – Canberra light rail network – Planned for 2019
  • P2 – Newcastle Light Rail – From 2017 under construction, open in 2019[9]
  • P3 – Sydney Metro – Construction of the first section began in 2014 with an estimated completion date of 2019[10]

Intercity rail transport

Map of passenger railway services in Australia

Map of passenger railway services in Australia

State Government owned rail services:
  Queensland Rail City network and Traveltrain services
  NSW TrainLink services
  V/Line services
  Transwa services

Great Southern Rail lines:

  Indian Pacific
  The Overland
  The Ghan
Main articles: Rail transport in Australia and History of rail transport in Australia

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.

The Indian Pacific in Perth

The Indian Pacific in Perth

Inter-state rail services

The Great Southern Rail, operates three trains: the Indian Pacific (Sydney-Adelaide-Perth), The Ghan (Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin) and The Overland (Melbourne-Adelaide).[11] 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 City network in South-East Queensland, and Transwa operating train and bus services in Western Australia.

In Tasmania, ‘TasRail’ operates a short haul narrow gauge freight system, that carries inter-modal and bulk mining goods. TasRail is government owned (by the State of Tasmania) and is going through a significant below and above rail upgrades with new locomotives and wagons entering service. Significant bridge and sleeper renewal has also occurred. The Tasmanian Government also operates the ‘West Coast Wilderness Railway’ as a tourist venture over an isolated length of track on Tasmania’s West Coast.

Mining railways

Six 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. Each line is operated by one of either BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals Group and Hancock Prospecting.

A common carrier railway was proposed to serve the port of Oakajee just north of Geraldton, but this was later cancelled after a collapse in the iron ore price.

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.