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Rail derailment sparks economic concerns

Track inspections: MITEZ CEO Glen Graham and president, David Glasson looking at the Isa to Townsville track near Cloncurry earlier in 2015. Picture: MITEZRelated coverage

Sulphuric acid spill concerns neighboursFreight train derailedAs authorities continue to battle wet conditions to gain access to the site of the train derailment east of Julia Creek, concerns are emerging about possible detrimental economic effects on industry in the north west.

Both economic development groupMITEZ and the Cloncurry Shire Council are worried that an extensive closure of the line willbringa major portion of northern Australia’s economy to a halt.

Acting Cloncurry mayor Jane McMillan believes the crash is an example ofthe “fragility of inland rail infrastructure” from Mt Isa to Townsville and is calling ongovernment to stop its “neglect of vital infrastructure”.

“If we are to seriously pursue the development of northern Australia, a reliable and robust rail and road network needs to be a priority,” she said.

“Business needs to be economical, efficient and cost effective in north Queensland.The government needs to investigate current investment levels and seriously review future investment opportunities to ensure the viability of northern Australia’s economic potential.

“It is simply not acceptable that in this day and age we are seeing incidents of this magnitude. Forward planning for the upgrade and standardisation of the rail line cannot wait any longer.”

The train was carrying 819,000 litres of sulphuric acidfor Incitec Pivot’s site at Phosphate Hill when the crash occurred on December 27.

Access to the site of the crash has been hampered by wet conditions. Picture: Police Media.

MITEZ president David Glasson said his organisationhad lobbied over many years for improvements to the rail track and over the past five years there had been a fair amount of work done on sections of the 900-kilometre long line.

“For the quantities and value of mining products and other materials being railed to and from the north west, it is essential that the IsaRail system is engineered and maintained to a standard that is able to handle the challenges of monsoonal weather events,” he said.

Mr Glasson added that the outcome of the investigation into the cause of the crash would determine what caused the derailment and there would no doubt be recommendations to address any issues in relation to the incident, which he said wouldrequire additional investment towards upgrading and maintaining the rail infrastructure.

A drone with thermal imaging has been employed to help authorities get an overview of the crash site. Picture: Police Media.

The state government’s rail safety regulator has engaged the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to conduct an independent investigation on its behalf.

Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffesaid that while it wastoosoonto speculate on the cause of the derailment, by engaging the Australian Transport Safety Bureauin these early stages, they couldensure theincident is thoroughly investigated and that the bestadvice could be receivedin a timely manner.

“The Australian Transport Safety Bureauwillwork closely with the relevant authorities to look into all aspects of theincident, and a preliminary report will be provide by the end of February with a full report and recommendations due before September2016,” he said.

Mr Glasson said heunderstood there were plans to construct a deviation around the site of the incident that will allow other products to continue to use the track while repairs to the damage is undertaken.

Cr McMillan hoped the state government wasusing all available resources to help get the line operational as quickly as possible.

“Widespread job losses are a real possibility if the line is not reinstated in a short time frame.”

Crash site investigation beginsPolice have advised that adetailed assessment of the site is expected to begin today.

Wet weather had been delaying access to the site butlower than expected rainfall yesterday meant that crews were able to construct two easements, allowing access to the site.

One causeway is constructed from limestone on a plastic mesh and geofabric base while the other is pallets on plastic mesh.

Two Environment and Heritage Protectionstaff have been on site conducting environmental sampling at eight sites, including seven on nearby Horse Creek and one site on Julia Creek, advising on December 30 that monitoring had increased in intensity.

“The department have advised of an emerging concern about an increased adverse impact on the nearby Horse Creek,” the statement said.

As a result of the water quality in Horse Creek being affected by acid release and an expectation of further rainfall, a decision has been made to treat the sulphuric acid on the ground and in Horse Creek with lime.

Department of Environment and Heritage staff at work assessing water samples in the wake of the sulphuric acid spill. Picture: Police Media.

A helicopter will be utilised to deposit limestone on the site to neutralise acid that is leaking.The aerial application of lime will commence this morning and sand bags will be filled with lime and placed across Horse Creek to treat flows already in the creek.

An emergency declaration and two kilometre exclusion zone remains in place under thePublic Safety Preservation Actto assist emergency services manage the scene, which includes the construction of a safe structure to allow salvage crews access to the crash site.

The Flinders Highway remains closed in both directions between Julia Creek and Richmond as a result of flooding and the exclusion zone.

It is anticipated that the exclusion zone will be in place for at least another 48 hours.

North Queensland Register

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