Aurizon rail lines have been seriously damaged by Tropical Cyclone Debbie.
Aurizon rail lines have been seriously damaged by Tropical Cyclone Debbie. Campbell Gellie

Coal companies face month-long wait for rail to re-open

MINING companies face a five-week wait to move coal to ports in some cases, because of the damage Cyclone Debbie caused to rail line infrastructure.

Rail company Aurizon said all its available crews and resources would swing into action over coming days to inspect and begin repairs on its four central Queensland coal networks.

Initial estimates indicate that its Goonyella rail system, which connects Bowen Basin coal mines to Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay coal terminals, will take about five weeks to repair.

This is due to significant landslips that not only damaged the line but are preventing vehicles accessing it.

However, aerial inspections of the line have been carried out and a program of works is under way.

Aurizon said it would also examine alternative routes as other systems become available in coming weeks, from the western sections of the Goonyella system, north up the Newlands system to Abbot Point Coal Terminal, and south through the Blackwater system to the Port of Gladstone.

It closed at noon on Tuesday, as did the Newlands line.

At this stage the Newlands line, which connects to the Abbot Point Coal Terminal, is expected to re-open in two to three weeks.

Initial reports indicate that while there are a significant number of sites with minor damage, there are no reports of major damage

Aerial inspections have continued to assess any residual flooding issues and damage to the rail infrastructure.

Aurizon's general freight line, which major supermarkets use, closed on Sunday in anticipation of flooding at Rockhampton.

Once it is re-opened services will resume between Brisbane and Rockhampton.

Aurizon also is working with major grocery retailers to transport their products into north Queensland using the road network, where possible.

The Blackwater system, which connects to the Port of Gladstone, was closed to rail traffic at 9pm Wednesday due to flooding.

It re-opened on Friday but due to more flooding in Rockhampton and surrounding areas it closed again - with the exception of the North Coast Line portion of the system which remains open - at 3pm Saturday. 

At this stage the system is expected to re-open by the end of this week, subject to further assessment as flood levels recede.

The Moura line, which also connects to the Port of Gladstone, closed at 9am Wednesday.

It is expected to re-open in two weeks.

The company believes the cost of repairing rail infrastructure and the loss of revenue is expected to be recovered as part of the established regulatory process with the Queensland Competition Authority. 

The temporary closure of the coal systems will have a negative impact on 2017 financial year volumes and earnings. However, it is too early to assess whether there will be a change to Aurizon's FY2017 volume and EBIT guidance. As soon as the company has more clarity on the length of system closures and the options available to mitigate the loss of volumes, a further update will be provided.

All Pacific National's rail operations on the Blackwater, Goonyella, Moura and Newlands systems have also been suspended.

A spokesperson for the rail company said it was working with local authorities and Aurizon Network to monitor the situation.  

"We expect there will be several areas where flood damage will require repair so any resumption of operations will be subject to confirmation from Aurizon Network that the tracks are safe,” the spokesperson said.