Trans Australian railway: ‘Once in 200-year-event’ hits Australia

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Parts of Australia’s most “strategically important” system have been severely damaged and are underwater after a “once in 200-year-event”.

Parts of Australia’s most “strategically important” system have been severely damaged and are underwater after a “once in 200-year-event”.

Massive floods in South Australia last week saw some locations receive over half their average rainfall in one day. The downpour has created havoc as major highways are closed due to “washaways” and local roads are cut due to flooding.

But the problem is far more widespread than that.

The flooding was so severe, it has damaged large sections of track on the nation’s Trans-Australian railway, which runs from Port Augusta in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and connects the eastern states with the west.

Pacific National chief operating officer Pat O’Donnell described it as the “umbilical cord” that connects the nation. Pacific National is Australia’s largest private rail freight company.

With supply shortages from the Covid pandemic already taking their toll, the disappearance of the railway is predicted to affect business.

Services to Perth have now been halted and Coles has already warned customers in WA some products could be “temporarily unavailable”. Services to the Northern Territory are also affected.

It is understood that at least 400km of the 2688km railway have been damaged.

In a statement to Australian Transport News, O’Donnell explained the consequences of the damage.

“A typical 1,800-metre-long double-stacked interstate freight train travelling between Adelaide and Perth (~2,700km journey which takes between 42 to 46 hours) can haul up to 330 containers.

“Such a service is equivalent to 140 interstate B-double truck trips (or 280 return trucks trips).

“For added context, a single container can hold up to 50,000 cans of food, 25,000 rolls of toilet paper, 1,500 cases of beer, 900 boxes of bananas, or 100 fridges.

“The Trans-Australian Railway is the umbilical cord connecting our continent’s eastern and western seaboards – it’s a vital link in Australia’s supply chain.”

‘One in 200-year event’

More than 200mm of rainfall in affected areas in South Australia’s north, forcing the closure between Adelaide and Perth for at least another two weeks, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) said late Thursday. It has been closed since late last week.

“The rainfall received in the area was a 1 in 100 / 200-year event,” Anthony Meere, ARTC General Manager said.

“Where we can, repair works are underway however additional damage is being identified following additional inspections.

“ARTC expects track will remain closed for at least 12 days.”

Meteorologists have explained that “event” is linked to the seasonal La Nina which is seeing large amounts of moisture flow down from the tropical Top End and tropical Queensland into South Australia.

“Normally the trough systems in January tend to be drier, but since there’s so much moisture the regions are experiencing heavier rain and storms generated by the instability from trough systems.”

Usually at least eight freight trains cross the Nullarbor per day but with numerous locations affected by additional rainfall, “damage is significant in nature and heavy machinery and materials will be required to fix the rain line”.

Some parts are still even submerged with “inaccessible at this stage due to flood waters”.

“These additional sites are extensively damaged and access to site locations is challenging with many still under water.

“ARTC crews worked through the weekend to inspect and assess track with some locations identified as being damaged.

“Crews worked quickly to repair the damaged lines, however access limitations via rail and road prevented some areas from being inspected.

“ARTC is working with South Australian authorities and the State Emergency Services on exploring options for support from mines and local contractors in the area to aid with recovery.”

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