Freight firms bank on rail reopening after WA floods


Cargo backlog grows as service remains at standstill after five days while grain logistics is in flux

Freight firms bank on rail reopening after WA floods
Trucks line up as crossing is impassable. Pic: WA Police

 

Rail-reliant freight firms are on tenterhooks awaiting the reopening of the flood hit east-west rail line but the exact timing remains unclear.

Five days after the lines was cut, Pacific National, which looks after Linfox rail freight, hopes that will be tomorrow.

But Brookfield Rail, which is responsible for the Eastern Goldfields line – the Western Australia side of line that carries about 80 per cent of east-west containerised freight traffic – tells ATN this is a provisional timing in an uncertain situation.

"It’s likely to be tomorrow afternoon and we have advised customers this is an estimated opening time based on current knowledge," a spokesperson says.

"However, given we are dealing with a natural disaster and recovery efforts are heavily dependent on weather and other environmental factors this can change very quickly."

Other lines yet to reopen are the Great Southern Railway, from Narrogin to Cranbrook, and southern grain lines from Wagin to Newdegate and Lake Grace to Hyden.

Reopened are the grain lines north of Northam, the Leonora line from Kalgoorlie to Leonora and the section of the Great Southern Railway from Northam to Narrogin.

"There has been extensive damage to the rail network, including embankments, track structures, and access roads," the spokesperson explains.

"Brookfield Rail’s teams are working to assess the extent of the situation and plan for safe restoration of the railway and train operations as soon as possible.

"Where conditions have allowed site preparation activities and recovery and restoration works have commenced and operations have resumed on some lines.

"In some areas the extent of the damage to rail infrastructure is still unclear because of continued rainfall and the volume of water and as a result some sections of the freight rail network will remain closed until further notice."

A Pacific National spokesperson tells ATN its services to and from Perth halted on and hopes had been held that the line would reopen at 1pm today.

"It’s incredibly frustrating for our managers," the spokesperson says adding that they will liaise with customers and working through the backlog will take some time.

Rural impact

While the floods came after a record harvest, storages are full and much grain remained to be transported to port, an issue for agribusiness CBH, which looks after most of the grain logistics in the state.

"Over the last four days CBH Group has been working with Brookfield Rail and Main Roads to determine the extent of damage across our network and minimise any impacts," a CBH spokesperson tells ATN.

"One of our receival sites received significant flooding.

"With waters having now receded, we are currently working with insurers to ascertain the extent of any damage to both infrastructure and grain.

Over the next few days we will be outloading grain held on site which will help us understand how much grain may have been lost."

The grain in storage and the infrastructure is covered under insurance, so any impact of this extraordinary weather event will not be passed on to growers but the floods have been indiscriminate in damaging transport infrastructure for both modes.

"Our main concern is the impact the floods have had on both road and rail networks," the CBH spokesperson says.

"The Albany zone has endured significant rail damage which is expected to take some time to repair, although an exact timeframe is not clear at this stage.

"Similarly, Kwinana has also been impacted however we expect normal operations to resume later this week.

"The floods have caused significant damage to roads in the Esperance zone, however we have been able to operate road programs in the central and Eastern part of the zone.

"Across all zones we are making the most of the road networks we have available.

"We also have a significant stockpile of grain in storage at port which has kept the most immediate shipping programs underway.

"There may be slight delays to the next wave of shipping schedules, however we are continuing to move grain from upcountry sites via both the road and rail networks which remain available."

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