The Pacific National freight train impacted by flooding at Nelia near Julia Creek.
The Pacific National freight train impacted by flooding at Nelia near Julia Creek.

Damaged rail line costing millions a day

NORTH Queensland's $1 billion mining and minerals processing sector has been mired by unprecedented flooding to its key lifeline - the rail line from Townsville to Mount Isa.

While operations continue at major processing plants, access for haulage is being impeded, causing production slowdowns and tens of millions of dollars in lost earnings.

There is concern the line could be out for months.

Glencore, which employs thousands of people at Mount Isa, Cloncurry and Townsville, said its copper and zinc business continued to operate and it was monitoring the transport network situation.

Fertiliser producer Incitec Pivot has estimated the rail closure will cost it about $10 million per week in lost earnings from February 9 until resumption of full production.

While its Phosphate Hill plant did not sustain any damage, and its Townsville fertiliser distribution and port facilities are operational, the company has been progressively shutting down at Phosphate Hill.

A spokeswoman for MMG's Dugald River zinc mine near Cloncurry said production was largely unaffected but the company was seeking alternative transport arrangements involving trucking to the Townsville port.

Queensland Rail CEO Nick Easy said the line between Cloncurry and Hughenden was still affected by extensive floodwaters and recovering the line was a key priority.

"We know how important the Mount Isa line is to the local economy and for the export market. There is certainly a lot of work to do, but at this stage we anticipate rectification of the line ahead of the six to 12 months being reported," Mr Easy said.

"Unfortunately, it is too early for us to be providing more definitive advice regarding repair time frames for the Mount Isa line, given floodwaters surrounding the site and on roads connecting to the site are yet to recede."

Mr Easy said debris removal from the track had started at Richmond, ballast trains and crews were positioned at Cloncurry and Hughenden, and 5000 sleepers had been delivered to Hughenden.

Another 5000 sleepers were being sent to Cloncurry.

A Pacific National train stowed at Nelia near Julia Creek on January 31 has been inundated and overturned by floodwater, spilling some of its load of zinc and lead concentrates and copper anodes.

Mr Easy said QR was working with Pacific National on a recovery plan and had appointed environmental specialists to guide assessments of the site. The North Coast line between Brisbane and Cairns was reopened yesterday.