Works have begun on Queensland’s $6 million Mount Isa Rail line upgrade, which has been designed to improve flood resilience and support 30 jobs.

The Queensland Government also announced that that $20 million had been accessed from its $80 million, four-year incentive scheme, encouraging freight operators and the resource industry to use the rail line, which connects the mineral-rich province to the Townsville Port.

Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister, Mark Bailey, said economies around the world had been hit hard by COVID-19, and that Queensland wasn’t immune to the harsh economic headwinds seen over the past six months.

“But, because of our strong health response so far, we’ve been able to start delivering our plan for economic recovery, which for the north west means bolstering our freight lines, encouraging investment and creating more jobs,” Mr Bailey said.

The $6 million upgrade will take place along roughly 320km of the line, starting just west of Hughenden and continuing right through to near Cloncurry.

The works include bridge abutment and scour repairs in nearby drains and creeks, stonework including gabion flood protection to embankments, and further drainage and cleaning works as required.

Member for Townsville, Scott Stewart, said about ten workers from each of three regional Queensland businesses – Morton’s Earthmoving, Townsville Earthmoving and Schwartz Excavations – will be involved in the project.

“About two thirds of the workers will stay in Julia Creek, while the rest will be accommodated in Richmond, and all the materials for the project will be sourced locally – providing a much needed injection for the community,” Mr Stewart said.

“The rail line provides a critical connection for resources companies to the Port of Townsville which is a major economic driver for the city.”

Work is expected to take place along the line until October 2020, and follows major repairs to the line in 2019, which saw a 400-strong Queensland Rail taskforce rebuild the line following unprecedented monsoonal weather.

Mr Bailey said in addition to investing in more resilient rail infrastructure, the Queensland Government was also encouraging more freight line usage through its incentive scheme.

“Queensland’s North West Mineral Province contains about 75 per cent of the state’s base metal and minerals, including copper, lead, zinc, silver, gold and phosphate deposits.

“Since we introduced the scheme, more than four billion gross tonne kilometres of eligible freight has moved along line to the Port of Townsville.

“This is an increase of more than one million in tonnage from the year prior to the scheme being introduced.”

Glencore’s Queensland Metals COO, Matt O’Neill, said its North Queensland operations had a long history of moving product and commodities via the Mount Isa Line, from Mount Isa and Cloncurry to their Townsville Copper Refinery, and through the Townsville Port to overseas markets.

“As a true mine-to-market business, we are active at every stage of the commodity supply chain and we welcome initiatives from the Queensland Government that address cost and improve reliability on the Mount Isa Line,” Mr O’Neill said.

“The distance to transport products in North Queensland is significant and transportation makes up a large portion of the cost of delivery to our customers, both in the domestic and export markets.

“We are pleased to see this scheme encouraging a shift towards rail as a real alternative to road transport along the Mount Isa rail corridor.”

Queensland Resources Council (QRC) Chief Executive, Ian Macfarlane, said the incentive scheme would help exports at a time when the state needed them the most.

“QRC’s own recovery strategy pointed to the Mount Isa rail line as a key economic corridor for regional jobs and contributor to the billions of dollars in royalty taxes paid to Government from our resource exports,” Mr Macfarlane said.

MMG Dugald River welcomed the investment from the Queensland Government to help make rail a more competitive option in North Queensland.

“At Dugald River, we remain open to exploring opportunities for optimising our supply chain, and commitments like this from the Queensland Government will be of benefit to us and our local communities,” an MMG spokesperson said.

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