A surge in container traffic through Fremantle Port has sparked fresh fears that WA's biggest container port will soon run out of spare capacity.
Between July and September Fremantle's container traffic jumped about 14 per cent a month on a compound basis, according to official statistics.
This is well above the 5.5 per cent annual rate the port uses when planning its long term needs.
The difference is crucial because it will determine how fast Fremantle, the State's biggest container port, runs out of capacity.
As reported by _West Business _last week, the global head of German logistics giant DB Shenker slammed the slow movement of containers through the port (which in part is done by private stevedores) for costing his company in penalties for ship delays.
The developments come as the Government is involved in a bitter $1 billion dispute with Len Buckeridge's James Point consortium over a rival container facility it signed a contract in 2000 to build in Kwinana.
The consortium argues that Fremantle could be full by between 2015 and 2017 on current trends, although this has been disputed by the port, which argues 2025 is more likely given new facilities on reclaimed land at Rouse Head.
Shadow transport spokesman Ken Travers said the issue was too serious to risk and urged planning on the basis of long-term growth rates of 9.7 per cent experienced between 1991 and 2008, before the global financial crisis struck.
"We need to apply the precautionary principle," he said.
"Surely, we are better off basing our planning on a figure of 9.7 per cent rather than using the GFC inclusive growth figure. If the growth does not materialise we can always delay actual construction."
"The impacts on the WA economy of the port reaching capacity before alternative facilities are in place will be quite dramatic."
However, Fremantle Port chief executive Chris Leatt-Hayter defended the port's modelling, saying it was conservative, based on global trends.
"It is not valid to base future planning on single year trade growth figures," he said. "More relevant are longer term trade trends and in Fremantle's case we have had average annual growth rates in container trade of 5.5 per cent over the last decade and 5.4 per cent over the last 5 years.
"(Assuming the former), it will not be until 2023-2024 that Fremantle reaches a throughput of 1.2 million teu (20-foot container equivalent units) per annum. If a higher growth rate of say 7 per cent is achieved, throughput of 1.2 million teu will be reached in 2021-2022."
Mr Travers said more needed to be done to put containers on rail, rather than trucks, but Mr Leatt-Hayter said the port had made huge strides in this area given roads and rail into the port were the ultimate drivers of capacity.