Following damage inflicted by unprecedented monsoonal weather, Queensland’s Mount Isa rail line is set to reopen on Monday 29 April.
More than 400 Queensland Rail staff and contractors worked 160,000 hours over the past ten weeks to repair rail infrastructure between Oorindi and Hughenden – restoring one of Queensland’s most important freight routes.
More than 200 sites across 300km of the rail line required repairs, including from Hughenden to Richmond, Maxwellton to Nonda, and Tibarri to Oorindi, where there was significant flooding, washouts and erosion.
Over 47km of track and 38 bridge abutments were damaged, requiring over 120,000 tonnes of ballast to repair the line.
Queensland Rail CEO, Nick Easy, said final repair works are now underway between Nonda and Quarrels.
“Final works to be completed over the next week include ballast train drops and resurfacing, while final inspections and test trains have run the line, prior to the track reopening,” Mr Easy said.
“At Nelia, the rail line has been rebuilt on a deviated route to allow trains to pass through the area while remediation works continue.
“Temporary transport facilities at Richmond and Hughenden will continue to be available until the line fully re-opens.”
Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Mark Bailey, said the Mount Isa Line plays a critical role connecting the region’s industries and communities. When it experienced this catastrophic event, the State Government made its repair a top priority.
“Every resource has been made available to accelerate recovery works, and I’m pleased to announce Queensland Rail expects to reopen the full length of the 1000km Mount Isa line from Monday April 29,” Mr Bailey said.
“I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks to all involved in making sure the Mount Isa line could be repaired as quickly as possible.”
Mr Easy said the dedication of the taskforce and crews, despite difficult working conditions, ensured communities along the Mount Isa Line were connected with the rest of the state as quickly as possible.
“Staff and contractors have gone above and beyond for what was a momentous challenge to get freight moving again in the state’s north west,” Mr Easy said.
“There were many local contractors who travelled to site from Townsville, Ingham, Rockhampton, Cloncurry, Richmond, and Mount Isa to assist our crews with a range of works including earthworks, traffic control and crane hire.
“Queensland Rail’s crews could also not have done it without support from TMR and the Department of Housing and Public Works, which helped to house hundreds of workers in temporary accommodation so the job could be done more quickly.
“I thank and congratulate everyone involved for getting the job done on time and to a high standard.”
Mount Isa line repairs an upgrade opportunity
Queensland Rail has used emergency repairs to perform a number of efficiency upgrades to the Mount Isa Line.
The works are expected to reduce rail freight travel times by up to 50 minutes.
Over the eleven-week recovery operation, more than 200 sites across 300km of track required repair, including 38 bridge abutments, the replacement of 47km of rail and 120,000 tonnes of ballast.
Mr Bailey, said the restoration works had upgraded sections of the line that were previously under speed restrictions.
“QR made the most of the line’s closure to deliver large scale maintenance activities such as rerailing and reconditioning works ahead of schedule while crews had unlimited access,” Mr Bailey said.
The maintenance works mean QR can now remove previous speed and axle load restrictions on upgraded sections along the line, improving the critical North West supply chain connecting industry to the Port of Townsville.
As a result, end-to-end run times between Townsville and Mount Isa will be reduced by up to 50 minutes.
“This is a great achievement by QR, and means that as services resume, industry will benefit from productivity enhancements made along the entire corridor,” Mr Bailey said.
Mr Bailey said the $100 million pledged by Federal Labor to support further maintenance and upgrades on the line would go a long way to ensuring the corridor was better equipped to deal with severe weather.
“The Palaszczuk Government is already investing more than $380 million in the Mount Isa line over the next five years, and Bill Shorten’s pledge will help to increase the line’s efficiency and capacity, and make it more resilient when extreme weather events occur in the future,” Mr Bailey said.
Mr Easy said the focus had now shifted to liaising with freight partners to resume services on the line and facilitate extra runs to assist with moving additional product delayed by the extended closure.
Final track inspections and preparations are underway ahead of the scheduled 29 April reopening of the line to freight.
“We anticipate the first freight train to depart Townsville and travel the entire length of the line Mount Isa will be a Pacific National service,” Mr Easy said.
The train will go to Mount Isa to be loaded with mineral concentrate from 5am Monday, with the North West supply chain gradually returning to schedule over the coming weeks.
The first passenger service, an outbound Inlander service, is scheduled to depart Townsville on 11 May.
The reopening of the entire corridor will significantly reduce the number of truck movements on the Flinders Highway and increase the productivity and efficiency of the North West supply chain.