The Australian Rail Track Corporation has announced that the Hunter Valley coal rail network, which was closed by severe weather and flooding last week, will return to service early on Wednesday afternoon, April 29.
Heavy rain and wind last week left the ARTC’s Hunter and North Coast networks flooded and damaged, with the corporation announcing on Tuesday, April 21 that it had closed the rail lines.
An initial forecast for the Hunter network predicted a possible re-opening as early as last Friday, April 24. But flood waters were slow to recede, and the ARTC had to extend that forecast by at least 48 hours.
On Monday, April 27, the corporation announced that infrequent passenger services would resume in Hunter, but that operations on the Hunter coal rail network were still offline.
“We currently remain unable to operate beyond Maitland,” the track administrator said on Monday.
“Large sections of track are now visible through the water line and the local team has been able to continue repair and refurbishment of signalling and track equipment.
“There are still sections of track with high water levels around Wallis Creek Bridge, however initial inspections of the bridge structure have taken place and are positive.”
A day later, on Tuesday, April 28, the ARTC was able to confirm a forecasted re-opening of the Hunter coal rail line of “early tomorrow afternoon (29 April)”.
“ARTC is working closely with our customers and the Hunter coal chain on the operational start-up plan,” the corporation said.
“ARTC maintenance crews will continue to work through the week to return the track to normal operating conditions.”
The ARTC prepared residents for a noisy few days, saying the work would “involve heavy track repair machines working around-the-clock conducting track resurfacing and rail grinding”.
“This is essential to get the network back up and running and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
While the forecast will be welcomed by operators on the crucial Maitland-to-Newcastle line and the broader Hunter network, users on the ARTC’s interstate, North Coast track are in for a longer wait.
The North Coast network, which was crippled by fast-moving flood waters which removed huge sections of ballast, and landslides which in places completely covered the rail line, is still closed a week later.
“The mid North Coast track remains closed, however works have been progressing well,” the ARTC said. “A number of minor repair jobs have been completed.
“Focus remains on two major project sites around Tocal where geotechnical assessments have been completed and all-weather and alternative access roads are being prepared to allow for consistent supply of materials.”