The Port of Townsville is the gateway for exports from the North West and North East minerals Provinces. The Mt Isa to Townsville Rail Corridor is the backbone connecting the Port to the North West Minerals Province. The quantity of exports from the North West is limited by what can be transported from the region, either by the Mt Isa Line, or by the Flinders Highway.

Description of the problem

  • Enquiries to the Port of Townsville suggest that the trade from the North West Minerals Province could reach 25 million tonnes per annum by 2013/14. The line currently carries over 6 million tonnes and in comparison to major intercity lines, its performance is poor. The line’s average speed is 40km/hr compared to 50-60 km/hr for intercity lines
  • There have been reports that users of the line have had rail transport volumes drastically restricted. One circumstance shows the rail network is responsible for a shortfall of 400,000 tonnes per annum moving from a mining company in the North West Minerals Province to the Port of Townsville. (Source: Port of Townsville). The current lack of capacity and poor performance of the Mt Isa line is causing freight to be shifted to road transport.
  • The line in its current state, according to QR, cannot carry more than 10 million tonnes without substantial upgrades; therefore the potential product available for export in the North West will not get to market unless the capacity of the Mt Isa Line is increased.

Who Pays?

Holding back large scale improvements of the line is the question of who will pay for the work. Major upgrading of the Mt Isa Line currently depends on negotiations between mining companies and QR on freight charges. It is difficult to expect projects with a 10 to 15 year life span to pay for infrastructure with an expected payback period of double or triple their lifespan. If there is no public investment to kick start work on the rail line then the ‘chicken and egg’ situation currently facing QR and its customers is unlikely to be resolved and will cost the country billions in lost export revenue.

What has to be done?

Action is required now. The Port of Townsville estimates that trade from the North West will top 10 million tonnes within the next two years. Above 10 million tonnes, trains of 1000m length are required. These trains cannot be handled by existing rail unloading facilities and rail access via the Eastern Access Corridor will be required. Key steps that can be taken are:-

  1. Between 2008/09 and 2011/12 – Construct a rail connection off the existing Network via the Eastern Access Transport Corridor to the Port of Townsville with connectivity into the existing facilities and also a stand alone balloon loop with a new dumper (privately funded). Construction should commence to coincide with the construction of the Townsville Eastern Access Road project. Estimated cost: $250m
  2. Beyond 20011/12 – Extend existing passing loops on the system to facilitate 1,450m long trains and construct new passing loops to reduce section run times to maximise capacity. Estimated cost: $450m
  3. Introduction of full remote control signalling on the system. Estimated cost: $230m.