Queensland Rail's CEO Nick Easy said following the recession of flood waters over the last week, Queensland Rail had been granted permission to access to the closed Flinders Highway, enabling limited access to the site at Nelia – 50 kilometres east of Julia Creek – where a Pacific National train was inundated by unprecedented flood waters 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. In preparation, representatives from Pacific National are meeting with local contractors regarding their works, which will be implemented as soon as conditions allow.
"Queensland Rail's focus has been on securing the safety and security of the Nelia site for the community and recovery teams, with an exclusion zone of 20 metres 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 307 kilometres of track, with extreme erosion identified at 204 sites. This includes approximately 40 kilometres of major track washouts and 20 kilometres 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.
"At this stage Queensland Rail believes the line can be fixed earlier than the 6 – 12 months that has been suggested and reported. We will continue to keep stakeholders and the community informed of these plans and timeframes."
Mr Easy said an important part of the recovery work was 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.
"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."
Mount Isa line recovery snapshot:
- 307km track impacted between Cloncurry and Hughenden
- 204 sites have sustained extreme erosion
- Approx. 40km of major track washouts
- Approx. 20km of track scour damage
- 71 bridges along the line have now been inspected and 16 confirmed as damaged.
- 100,000 cubic metres of ballast or fill will be required for repairs
- 10,000 sleepers have been delivered to Hughenden and Cloncurry
- Julia Creek to Oorindi remains inaccessible via ground, with inspections being undertaken by drone
- Repair works already commenced from Richmond to Hughenden – expected to reopen this section within a week
- In addition to challenging ground conditions in some areas, QR teams will also be facing extreme heat conditions of more than 40 degrees