Queensland Rail (QR) is assessing the damage across over 300km of the Mount Isa rail track following unprecedented flood waters in February 2019.
Queensland Rail CEO, Nick Easy, said the recession of flood waters enabled limited access to the site at Nelia, 50km east of Julia Creek, where a Pacific National train was inundated on 7 February.
“While ground conditions still aren’t dry enough to accommodate the heavy machinery required for Pacific National to recover the train and wagons, we are hopeful that – weather conditions permitting – Pacific National can commence this process late this week,” Mr Easy said.
“In preparation, representatives from Pacific National are meeting with local contractors regarding their works, which will be implemented as soon as conditions allow.”
Mr Easy said that in the interest of ensuring the safety and security of the Nelia site for the community and recovery teams, an exclusion zone of 20m has been established around the train and security personnel now on site.
“Fencing will be progressively arranged around the site as ground conditions allow. This safety exclusion zone is not impeding on neighbouring properties.”
Mr Easy said in terms of the status of the Mount Isa Line more broadly, the line remains impacted by flood damage between Cloncurry and Hughenden.
“Queensland Rail engineers and recovery crews have identified damage across 307km of track, with extreme erosion identified at 204 sites.
“This includes approximately 40km of major track washouts and 20km of track scouring and work is now underway to confirm required repairs and expected recovery timeframes, taking into account optimum use of all industry resources, plant and equipment.
“All available resources are being mobilised to undertake repairs, including engineers and track teams from South East Queensland, to ensure we return the Mount Isa Line to full operation as soon as possible.”
100,000 cubic metres of ballast or fill will be required for repairs to the line. 10,000 sleepers have already been delivered to Hughenden and Cloncurry.
In addition to challenging ground conditions in some areas, QR teams will also be facing extreme heat conditions of more than 40 degrees.
Nevertheless, Mr Easy said QR believes the line can be fixed earlier than the six to twelve months that has been suggested and reported.
“We will continue to keep stakeholders and the community informed of these plans and timeframes,” he said.
An important part of the recovery work will include correctly identifying and managing any environmental impacts caused by the spill of minerals into floodwaters by the impacted Pacific National train at Nelia.
“Any environmental impacts caused by this incident will be taken very seriously,” Mr Easy said.
“On Friday 15 February the Department of Environment and Science issued a ‘Clean Up Notice’ to Queensland Rail, Pacific National and Glencore outlining the key requirements for the site including containment, monitoring, assessment and remediation.
“This Clean Up Notice supports the approach already adopted by the parties, and Queensland Rail, Pacific National and Glencore are engaging the services of an independent environmental specialist to assist with achieving the requirements of the Notice.”
Mr Easy said that aerial surveys have been conducted of both the Nelia site and downstream areas to inform sampling and assessment activities. Whilst site access remains challenging, ground-based sampling is expected to commence later this week.
“Early inspections indicate that a significant portion of the mineral concentrates have remained in the train’s wagons, but that 19 wagons carrying zinc concentrate and two carrying lead concentrate have sustained damage.
“Once site access is secured, an accurate assessment of product loss can be made.
“These mineral concentrates have low solubility and are therefore expected to have low mobility in the environment. However, flood water velocity is likely to have resulted in some product mobilisation.
“Assessments to better understand floodwater flow paths are being completed to aid identification of potentially affected areas.
“Queensland Rail, Pacific National and Glencore will continue to work together to keep the local community informed as this work progresses and as more information becomes available.”