Australia's transportation system must contend with the challenges of a vast, thinly populated continent. Over time, railroads have suffered from incompatibility as a result of the use of different gauges, but in January 2004 the first intercontinental rail service opened between the southern city of Adelaide and the northern city of Darwin. The road system varies in quality. More than 95 percent of the roads in the compact Australian Capital Territory are paved, whereas in the Northern Territory-with a small population settled in a large region-only about 29 percent of the roads are paved. Melbourne is Australia's busiest port.
Australia has 808,295 kilometers of roadways, 643,481 kilometers of which are surfaced. An 18,500-kilometer national highway links the state capitals and is the principal interstate road network. There are 259.5 kilometers of toll roads around Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney.
The separate British colonies of Australia developed their own rail systems prior to federation in 1901, and as such, it was not until 1995 that the various capital cites (with the exception of Darwin in the Northern Territory) were connected to one another by standard-gauge (1.435-meter) rail lines. Australia has 43,802 kilometers of railroads, of which just 5,290 are electrified. Standard-gauge rail accounts for 26,675 kilometers, narrow-gauge for 14,957 kilometers, broad-gauge for 1,957 kilometers, and dual-gauge for 213 kilometers. In January 2004, the first transcontinental railroad began freight service between Adelaide and Darwin. The completion of this railroad is expected to facilitate trade with China. The dream of a transcontinental railroad first had been conceived in the mid-nineteenth century.
Australia, an island nation located a great distance from major international markets, is heavily dependent on its system of ports. There are five major Australian ports: Adelaide, Brisbane, Fremantle, Melbourne, and Sydney. Melbourne is the largest container and general cargo port in the nation and handles approximately US$60 billion worth of trade annually. Sydney, the second largest port, actually includes two ports; 70 percent of Sydney's bulk and container trade goes through Botany Bay, while Sydney Harbour handles passenger as well as commercial trade. Fremantle, located south of Perth and the port closest to the Southeast Asian hub of Singapore, is the third largest in Australia.
Although the Murray River once served as an important transport artery, it has been supplanted by rail and other trade routes. The Murray and other rivers in the Murray-Darling river system are used mostly for recreation.
Australia has 411 airports, of which 271 have paved runways. In preparation for the 2000 Olympics, Sydney Airport underwent a US$800 million upgrade, while an earlier runway expansion of Adelaide's airport made it accessible to Boeing 747 aircraft. Other major airports include Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, and Perth. Australia's national carrier is Qantas, which was privatized in 1992 after deregulation of the Australian airline industry. It was purchased by British Airways in 1993 and in 2000 carried 20 million passengers and 82,000 tons of freight. Qantas provides domestic and international service; its main overseas destinations include Auckland, Bangkok, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Honolulu, London, Los Angeles, Manila, New York, Paris, Rome, Singapore, Shanghai, Taipei, and Tokyo. Qantas's fleet of 194 aircraft (as of July 2005) includes planes such as the Boeing 737-800 and 747-400ER and the Airbus A330-200 and A330-300. Qantas took delivery of 12 Airbus A380 aircraft in 2007. Virgin Blue, a low-cost domestic carrier, also operates in Australia.
The bulk of Australia's pipeline infrastructure was built to carry natural gas from production fields in the center of the country to coastal cities. There are roughly 29,000 kilometers of natural gas pipeline, but just 4,700 kilometers of oil pipeline. Pipeline infrastructure is fragmented, and new investment is hindered by concerns among investors that tax and regulatory frameworks are unwieldy. Updating the pipeline infrastructure in order to efficiently supply the nation with energy from burgeoning offshore natural gas fields will require (according to the Australian government) US$5.5 billion over 10 years. The Australian Pipeline Trust operates some 4,400 kilometers of pipeline, both oil and gas, and Epic Energy operates another 2,500 kilometers of oil and gas pipeline.
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