Trans-Australia railway returns to service after major flood repairs

Flood damage to the Trans-Australian railway line near Tarcoola, South Australia. Picture: Australian Rail Track Corporation.

Operations have resumed on the Trans-Australia railway between Adelaide and Tarcoola, a vital link connecting Western Australia and the Northern Territory to the Eastern states, weeks after major floor-related damage had rendered the line unusable.

Nine freight trains were expected to access the newly repaired network yesterday, allowing much-needed supplies such as fresh food, beverages and retail goods to move to Western Australia.

Following significant rainfall and flooding in South Australia between January 21-23, which was described by meteorologists as a one-in-200-to-300-year event with more than 200mm of rain in 24 hours, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) had to close the inter-state network between Port Augusta and Tarcoola.

Crews had been working around the clock to fix the damage, which had affected 18 locations along a 300 kilometre stretch of track. A total of 50,000 tonnes of ballast was used during repairs.

Western Australian Transport Minister Rita Saffioti thanked ARTC, retailers, industry and truck drivers for helping keep freight and supply moving through this unprecedented event.

“I’d also like to thank the community for being so supportive and only buying what they needed at the supermarket, making it much easier for us to manage the supply chain issues,” she said.

While noting it will take some time to clear the backlog of supplies, the Minister encouraged everyone to remain patient and to continue to only buy what they need over the next few weeks.

ARTC Group Executive Interstate Network Simon Ormsby said all of Australia owned a debt of thanks to the crews and contractors who have worked extremely hard to bring the interstate network back online.

“In the end we had more than 100 staff on ground working around the clock to fix 18 locations along a 300km stretch of track in 24 days. This was a tremendous display of coordination and effort with our on ground work supported by ARTC project management and logistics staff from across the country,” he said.

“A special mention also to John Holland who brought in specialist rail construction resources from the Eastern States and Arc Infrastructure and Sydney Trains who supplied specialist equipment to be utilised in the recovery effort,” he added.

During the rail shutdown period, the Western Australian Government was working with Pacific National and Linfox to create a ‘land bridge’ with freight transported by triple road trains from Adelaide to Kalgoorlie via the Eyre Highway. Once at Kalgoorlie, containers were loaded onto freight trains and hauled into Perth.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator had allowed triple road trains to use Eyre Highway and access Kalgoorlie directly. As of Sunday, 55 triple road trains (53.5 metres) had used these exemptions to bring essential goods across the Nullarbor.

Moreover, double road trains (36.5 metres) were deployed to travel directly from Northam into Perth via Greenmount Hill with a safety escort. A total of 43 double road trains had entered Perth via this route.

Retail giant Woolworth had resorted to a maritime option to ship goods to Western Australia, with the first ship having left Sydney on February 8 and due to arrive at Fremantle Port by February 22.

The shipping option is anticipated to bring in more than 3,500 additional pallets of goods into Fremantle.

“We are continuing to allow truck deliveries to supermarkets 24/7, under changes to planning laws in 2020, which will mean we can get more essential goods and supplies back onto our supermarket shelves quicker,” Minister Saffioti said.


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