Heavy rainfall and flooding has damaged railways and roads in South Australia, leading to a halt in all rail movements between the state, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
A Declaration of a Major Emergency was made by South Australian State Emergency Services (SASES) after an assessment of the damage and the impact on nearby towns.
Major highways, along with significant areas of the Trans-Australian railway were flooded, preventing the transport of essential food and goods to the South Australian town of Coober Pedy.
SASES Chief Officer, Chris Beattie, said that the township of Coober Pedy has been isolated for several days due to rainfall and flooding of the highway.
“We are working closely with the Australian Defence Force on an emergency resupply of 20 tonnes of essential food goods to Coober Pedy via RAAF Base Edinburgh, with flights to commence from Monday 31 January, followed by several other flights,” Mr Beattie said.
“The Department of Infrastructure and Transport (DIT) is continuing to assess, repair and reopen the Stuart Highway near Glendambo.
Road freight has started using an alternative route to the Northern Territory, which has been approved by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.
“Some delays have been reported due to flooding at the borders of New South Wales and Queensland, but freight is moving and DIT is considering ways to speed up the transit,” Mr Beattie said.
“At this stage, restoration is expected to be complete between 14 and 17 February.”
Mr Beattie said that there are also concerns about incoming severe thunderstorms, which could lead to more road, rail and property damage and exacerbate supply chain disruptions, including food supplies.
Repairing the Trans-Australian Railway
Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) operations between Adelaide and Perth ceased during the extreme weather event, which caused upwards of 200mm of rain in some areas — rainfall that was described as a one-in-200-year event.
Some areas received half of their average rainfall for an entire year during the event.
Eight locations were damaged due to the initial flooding, all of which were within 100km east of Tarcoola.
The damage is significant in nature and heavy machinery and materials will be required to fix the Trans-Australian railway.
ARTC crews are working on finalising the repairs from the initial flooding, however further rainfall since then has caused additional damage.
These additional sites are extensively damaged, and access to site locations is challenging, with many still underwater and access limitations by rail and road preventing some areas from being inspected.
Major earthworks are required at several locations to restore the track. Additionally, access to these locations is challenging as major highways were closed due to washaways.
An aerial inspection was performed by helicopter due to restricted road and rail access, to further assess damage and assist in the development of a recovery plan.
ARTC expects repairs of the damaged rail infrastructure to take at least 12 days.
ARTC is working with South Australian authorities and the State Emergency Services on exploring options for support from mines and local contractors in the area to aid with recovery.