Mount Isa, Queensland. Photo: Creative Commons

Study to assess double-stacked freight on Mount Isa line

The Queensland government will complete a business case into the potential to run double-stacked freight trains from Mount Isa to Stuart and the Port of Townsville.

Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey announced the business case, which will be completed by the end of 2020, along with flood resilience upgrade works.

To improve the line, which was washed out in heavy flooding in 2019, ageing rail equipment such as sleepers and ballast will be renewed. Queensland Rail will conduct geotechnical and survey work this month, which will enable new bridges to be installed and culverts to be replaced with spans and new piers.

“Those works will significantly increase capacity on waterway openings and provide protection to embankments to better withstand flood events,” said Member for Townsville Scott Stewart.

These upgrades are in addition to the $6 million works to improve the line’s resilience between Cloncurry and Hughenden.

Port of Townsville CEO Ranee Crosby said enabling double-stacked freight trains to run on the line would mean more freight coming into the port on rail.

“Townsville Port is Australia’s largest exporter of zinc, copper, lead and fertiliser, with significant growth opportunities from the North West Minerals Province, one of the world’s richest mineral-producing regions,” she said.

“These investments into the Mount Isa to Townsville Rail Line, such as enabling double-stacking of containers on rail, will offer customers greater flexibility in transporting freight to the Port, improving efficiency and helping drive down supply chain costs.”

Queensland Rail, which owns and manages the Mount Isa line, will carry out the business case, and CEO Nick Easy said improving the rail line will unlock further investment.

“The Mount Isa line is a critical connector for communities in North West Queensland and one of the state’s key freight paths, and Queensland Rail is committed to ensuring it meets the needs of communities and freight operators,” he said.

“These investments will help existing mining operators export their resources and encourage new investment in the state’s north west.

Mount Isa, Queensland. Photo: Creative Commons

Mount Isa Line upgrades begin as more resources moved via rail

Work has begun on an upgrade of the Mount Isa rail line, which was significantly damaged in flooding caused by monsoons in 2019.

The $6 million upgrade will improve 320km of the line, beginning near Hughenden and finishing near Cloncurry. Works include bridge abutment and scour repairs in nearby drains and creek, stonework to improve embankments, and drainage and cleaning work as required.

The works to improve the line’s resilience are in addition to repairs that were undertaken in 2019 to get the line working again after heavy rains.

The Mount Isa rail line is used by the resource industry to export minerals from northern Queensland to ports along the coast. The Queensland government has been incentivising the use of freight to transport these commodities through an $80m incentive scheme, of which $20 million has been accessed so far, said Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey.

“Since we introduced the scheme, more than four billion gross tonne kilometres of eligible freight has moved along line to the Port of Townsville,” he said.

“This is an increase of more than one million in tonnage from the year prior to the scheme being introduced.”

Resources figures including Glencore’s Queensland Metals COO Matt O’Neill welcomed the scheme.

“The distance to transport products in North Queensland is significant and transportation makes up a large portion of the cost of delivery to our customers, both in the domestic and export markets,” he said.

“We are pleased to see this scheme encouraging a shift towards rail as a real alternative to road transport along the Mount Isa rail corridor.”

A focus of the project will be ensuring that the benefits of the upgrade are felt locally, said Member for Townsville Scott Stewart.

“About two thirds of the workers will stay in Julia Creek, while the rest will be accommodated in Richmond, and all the materials for the project will be sourced locally – providing a much needed injection for the community.”