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Spotlight on recovery

TMR mobilises to get North Queensland moving again

Following an unparalleled series of natural disasters, the Department of Transport and Main Roads rallied together to restore the network and reconnect affected communities.

The state transport network connects Queenslanders to education, jobs, health care and more. When disaster strikes, impacts to the transport network can severely affect those communities cut off from vital goods and services. TMR customers and the community can be isolated as a result of the transport and freight networks being disrupted.

Almost 12,000 kilometres of road were affected by 11 natural disasters.

Over the last 10 years Queensland has experienced more than 60 natural disasters. The department’s response to disasters continuously evolves to ensure disruptions are minimised and communities are quickly reconnected.

During the 2018–19 severe weather season, an extensive area of Queensland was impacted by bushfires, heatwaves, heavy rainfall, cyclones, damaging winds, destructive tides and/or riverine flooding. Some of these disasters occurred concurrently, and while one part of the state was being impacted by bushfires, another was experiencing heavy rainfall and flooding.

This year’s North Queensland monsoonal floods were unprecedented one-in-500-year flood and one-in-1000-year event affecting more than half of Queensland’s geographic area. These events significantly exceeded flooding previously experienced in the region, with floodwaters causing extensive damage throughout Cape York, Townsville, Winton and Mount Isa areas.

The one-in-1000-year event affected more than half of Queensland.

A total of 11,902 kilometres—more than one-third of the state-controlled road network—was closed or had restricted access during the disaster events. This included 3059 kilometres impacted by more than one event. A total of $33.6 million was spent on the 2018–19 natural disaster works to 30 June 2019. The event also caused widespread impacts to the Queensland Rail network, particularly the Mt Isa line. More than 200 sites across 300 kilometres of track required attention including repair of 38 bridge abutments, replacement of 47 kilometres of track and 120,000 tonnes of ballast. Financial relief measures under the Australian Government’s Disaster Recovery Arrangements were activated for a total of 11 natural disaster events in Queensland during the 2018–19 financial year.

An integrated response to unprecedented disasters

Not in living memory has Queensland responded to concurrent severe weather events, impacting vast areas of the state. The full extent of damage to the state-controlled transport network was not known for some time. As the bushfires and heatwaves diminished and flood waters receded, and network access became available, the extent of damage and massive recovery task became apparent.

Deputy Director-General (IMD) Amanda Yeates said the department worked quickly to reinstate network access and essential transport links by completing temporary repairs, clearing road hazards and fixing potholes.

"We plan for and are prepared to respond quickly to the impacts of disruptive events such as cyclones and extreme weather on the transport network. We know to expect the unexpected.

In very difficult and challenging conditions, TMR crews mobilised quickly, commencing repairs to reopen the road network and importantly enable resupply of impacted communities.

Where significant damage had occurred, temporary repairs were undertaken where possible to return roads to a safe and trafficable condition until full reconstruction could be completed," explained Amanda.

Connectivity for business systems remained an essential requirement during the disaster events and was particularly important in the department’s response. These systems ensured access to information to inform planning and decisions and timely communication with stakeholders.

Maintaining Information Communication and Technology (ICT) disaster recovery capability including testing to validate the effectiveness of disaster recovery plans to meet TMR’s business objectives requires the department to work closely with its business representatives. This ensure TMR’s ICT disaster recovery strategy remains aligned to TMR’s essential business functions.

Two firefighter frighting a bush fire beside the road

Firefighters crews battling the blazing bushfires on Burnett Highway at Nanango-Tarong Road

Chief Information Officer Sandra Slater said the department was focused on ensuring TMR staff operating in the disaster effected areas had access to essential ICT equipment, connectivity and on the ground support needed to perform their critical roles.

"We ensured our ICT network and key business systems and applications remained accessible and performed optimally for our colleagues, our external business partners and the broader Queensland public during the disaster management response for the North Queensland floods," explained Sandra.

In Townsville, Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) worked with the Queensland Water Police to communicate the release of waters from Ross River Dam and warn boat owners of the change in currents and water flow. Marine officers also assisted Water Police in coordinating safe operations of volunteer vessels rescuing residents stranded in flooded streets.

Hydrographic surveys were undertaken in the Ports of Weipa and Amrun as well as Ross River and Black Weir. Crews worked across impacted beacons to rebuild destroyed beacons and re-position buoys and arranged for the removal of sunken vessels which posed an immediate hazard to mariners. Hydrographic surveys also were undertaken, to ensure safe navigation of vessels for industry and recreational users.

General Manager (MSQ) Angus Mitchell said the series of natural disasters tested the skills, tenacity and resilience of the department’s staff.

"Our response to the monsoonal flooding, king and storm tides and temperature extremes demonstrated an agile and adaptive culture which made the events valuable learning opportunities," said Angus.

TMR worked with the Department of Education to reduce the impact of flooding on school bus services, putting amended routes and timetables in place until flood waters receded and roads reopened.

Deploying a contingency of staff supporting response and recovery

The Queensland Disaster Management Arrangements set the state’s framework for management of disasters and TMR’s obligation during natural disasters. TMR provides response and recovery support to ensure Queensland remains connected and safe during events impacting the state. TMR provided extensive coverage at the State Disaster Coordination Centre (SDCC) to manage impacts to the transport network working collaboratively with Emergency Responders and other state and local government agencies to ensure minimal impacts to the network and expedite repairs to damaged assets.

TMR responded to 11 disruptive events impacting Queensland, including three separate activations of the SDCC, including:

  • Central Queensland Bushfire event from 28 November to 4 December 2018
  • Tropical Cyclone Owen from 13 to 16 December 2018
  • North Queensland Monsoon Trough from 25 January to 14 February 2019.

22

Activation days

56

Rostered SDCC officers

>589

Rostered hours at the SDCC

>36

Rostered shifts at the SDCC

88

CRRR deployed

174

CRRR deployments

As the focus shifted from response to recovery, the Community Recovery Ready Reserves (CRRR), made up of 88 volunteers from TMR and other Queensland Government agencies, were deployed. Ready Reserves were deployed to assist the many Queensland regions that were impacted by the Far North, North, North West Queensland Monsoonal event and Tropical Cyclone Trevor (Cairns, Townsville and Cloncurry). These volunteers focus on the human and social recovery, providing information, connecting people with support services and taking applications for eligible grants.

Staff working in front of a computer at the State Disaster Coordination Centre

Staff from TMR undertaking liaison officer roles whilst in the SDCC.

Embracing social media content to connect communities

Social media played a pivotal role in keeping the Queensland community informed and educated during significant weather events. The department’s customers expect a high level of direct engagement; these channels played a key role in keeping communities informed of impacts to the transport network and provided updates about ongoing repairs.

Social media reached people in a way traditional messaging could not, with updates shared widely and reaching large audiences. During the disasters, social media communication became a priority, as the department published posts, photos and videos provided by communication staff on the ground, including:

  • major roads and highway closures and reopenings
  • general safety and alert messages
  • maritime alerts and affected ports and harbours
  • public transport suspensions and resumptions
  • Customer Service Centre closures
  • affected rail tracks and lines
  • disaster assistance packages available for affected communities.

TMR also responded to customer questions, providing the latest information, and directing customers to the QLDTraffic website and mobile app, where they could stay up-to-date with affected roads. Using Facebook and Twitter allowed customers to quickly share updates, even if they were not directly affected by the severe weather.

The department also supported other organisations involved in flood response and recovery, including Queensland Police Service, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, the Bureau of Meteorology and Townsville City Council, by sharing their information, in order to reach a wider audience.

The department connected with customers by providing them an informative communication channel where they could get the latest news and information as it became available. Messaging also demonstrated how we were working hard to reconnect communities and ready to begin repairing the damage when safe to do so. TMR’s social media platforms became an essential part of the department’s effort and response to support our customers and the affect communities during the numerous weather events.

Repairing the network

Alice River Bridge – Hervey Range Road

The Alice River Bridge on Hervey Range Road was severely damaged by floodwaters during the Townsville monsoon rain event. Floodwaters caused significant erosion of the river bed around the bridge foundations which may have compromised the structural integrity of the bridge. One of the bridge abutments was also severely damaged, along with the road embankment.

In mid-February, once floodwaters had completely subsided and it was safe for crews and engineers to access the site, TMR commenced surveying and technical inspections at Alice River Bridge. Crews used heavy machinery to remove large amounts of debris from around the bridge foundations and the demolition of large boulders on the roadway, allowing structural engineers to complete additional inspections to the bridge piers and piles.

The next focus was on re-establishing and stabilising the washed-out areas under the bridge before commencing works on the bridge itself. Earthen material was transported to site and compacted to backfill the scour at both abutments. Rock protection was then placed over the material to prevent further scouring.

Works started in April and TMR initially estimated the repair works could take up to six months to complete due to the significant damage it sustained, however, the restoration and reconstruction works progressed so well that the bridge was able to be reopened on 26 June 2019, two months ahead of schedule. The work included:

  • 6400 cubic metres of fill placed at the bridge foundations and approaches
  • 4400 cubic metres of scour protection placed to prevent future erosion
  • 3500 square metres of geofabric used
  • 240 metre long construction access track built.

Reconstruction works, including final rock protection works and site reinstatement, will continue at the Alice River Bridge site until early-July 2019.

Arial shot of the Alice River Bridge under-construction

Aerial view of the reconstruction works occurring on the Alice River Bridge on Hervey Range Road.

Mount Spec Road – Paluma Range

Mount Spec Road on Paluma Range was heavily impacted by multiple landslides, cutting access to Paluma Village and causing damage including compromised pavement, guardrail damage, potholes and debris. While emergency repair works were completed in February to clear the road and restore access to Paluma village, important slope stabilisation works were still needed to improve safety and allow TMR to reopen the road to all motorists without restrictions.

In June 2019, specialist geotechnical contractors completed slope stabilisation works at nine slopes to prevent them from further erosion. The boulders are secured using high tensile mesh and then broken into smaller pieces by drilling into the boulder at regular intervals. They are then brought down to road level in a controlled manner using a wire rope system, with added protection being provided by barriers and recycled car tyres. Once on the road, larger rocks are broken down further by mechanical rock breakers and taken away by truck. Jute matting and coloured concrete was applied to one high-risk site to reduce further erosion.

TMR has engaged a contractor to place hydromulch, which includes sterile annual grass seed and fern spores native to the local area, over the jute mesh. Given time, the hydromulch will revegetate, making the slopes appear similar to the rest of Mount Spec Road in future.

Departmental engineers will continue inspections of Mount Spec Road to determine any additional works required to provide the safest conditions for road users.

Crews removing unstable boulders on side cliff face

Geotechnical contractors removing unstable boulders on Mount Spec Road, Paluma, reducing the risk of further landslips after natural disasters.

Richmond to Julie Creek – Flinders Highway

The most severely damaged section of the Flinders Highway reopened to traffic just 13 days after major flooding receded.

A 150 kilometre section of the Flinders Highway, from Richmond to Julia Creek, was cut when flooding washed away sections of the road pavement. Water receded on 14 February, revealing major damage on the Flinders Highway at Nelia. The following day, TMR began damage assessment and discussions to undertake emergency works.

Richmond Shire Council commenced works from the Richmond end of the road section. Crews were mobilised from Townsville to undertake major works at Nelia, starting on 21 February and enabling the highway to re-open on 27 February 2019.

Road crews worked under hot and challenging conditions to get the Flinders Highway re-opened. In addition to emergency road repairs, crews had to remove and dispose of 68 cattle carcasses from the road reserve along the Flinders Highway.

While reopening the highway is an important step in the region’s recovery, the severity of the damage means further works will be required.

Substantial surface damaged to the Richmond to Julie section of the Flinders Highway

Some of the substantial damaged to the Richmond to Julie section of the Flinders Highway.

Ross River and Bowen Road Bridge

The rain event in Townsville caused the Ross River Dam to reach more than 200 per cent capacity. The strong currents from the opened spillway gates caused a number of lateral marker beacons were reported missing and a number of lateral marker buoys were reported off station.

The Bowen Road Bridge was closed and inaccessible for 10 days due to the flooding. As the floodwaters receded, the department’s inspectors could check the bridge structure (by boat!) and load test the bridge.

The rapid rise of the Ross River Dam caused a carpet of weeds to flow into the Marina Precinct in Townsville. Local port crew removed the weeds before it created mischief above and below the waterline.

Blanket of weeds, cannot see water, in the marina surrounding boats

A carpet of weeds in Townsville’s Marina Precinct.

Hervey Range Road

Following the record rainfall, debris from a landslip had blocked a culvert under the Hervey Range Road, causing the rainwater to back up and—eventually—find its own damaging path down the range. In some sections, the debris caused sub-surface erosion which was almost half a metre deep, across a distance of roughly 200 metres and caused large sub-surface cavities.

The department worked with Townsville City Council to prioritise emergency works to repair the extensive damage. RoadTek was mobilised to the site to begin the breaking down of large boulders which had landed on the pavement following landslips. Once the boulders were broken down, Townsville City Council removed the debris and completed the pavement repairs. In some sections, repairs for piping was a priority. Piping is a term for sub-surface erosion caused by a large volume of water creating its own flow path under the roadway. The department worked with council to determine the safest method for managing the piping on Hervey Range Road.

Even though the area was an active construction zone, the Hervey Range Road reopened to local traffic under very controlled conditions in mid-February 2019 to reconnect the Townsville community. Temporary rock fall protection barriers were installed on the Hervey Range Road to protect road users, with the intention of installing permanent rock fall protection in the future.

Crew members inspecting large boulders and debris which is blocking the road

Crews inspecting the damage on Hervey Range Road following landslides after the North Queensland monsoon trough.

Eligible reconstruction works are jointly funded by the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA).

Reconnecting the community after natural disasters

The flooding isolated many communities and the department was focused on reopening key routes to allow the restock of essential supplies and access to essential services for residents and road users.

Safety of road users and roadworkers was the number one priority during reconstruction work. We’d like to thank residents for their patience while we undertook these essential works.
Director-General Neil Scales

Re-establishing important links for communities, business and industry is one of TMR’s priorities after natural disasters. The Flinders Highway was reopened within two weeks, which in turn enabled work to start on recovery of the Mt Isa Rail line. Recovery works included creation of additional culverts and installation of corrugated metal pipes along high-risk areas to aid water flow and drainage in the event of another flooding event.

TMR worked with more than 30 local government authorities to mobilise crews and inspect roads and bridges for safety.

Transport Network Security and Resilience Chief Don Bletchly said during these times the best outcomes are achieved when partners from across government, business and industry work together.

Like all complex and challenging community issues, we couldn’t do this alone.

“Having strong, trusting networks and relationships with our stakeholders is critical to our success in keeping our transport network safe and running efficiently—no matter what the hazard,” said Don.

TMR immediately addressed issues to quickly reopen the rail line to Mount Isa. A joint regional coordination centre was established in Townsville to guide and locally direct operations to re-establish road and rail functions as quickly as possible for the community and commercial purposes. From the centre, a staged plan based on local decisions and direction was established to allow timely road repairs. This also allowed vital heavy machinery and equipment to be sent quickly to targeted locations to repair and rebuild some of the damaged rail line.

During the extreme flooding events, barges were used to connect communities cut off by floodwaters and get vital resources to where they were needed most

During the extreme flooding events, barges were used to connect communities cut off by floodwaters and get vital resources to where they were needed most

Through this local knowledge and decision making, large sections of the rail line were quickly reopened, allowing mining, livestock and other critical supplies and resupplies to again be transported across the rail network.

TMR worked with local, district and state groups to enable better road access for responders and resupply providers along the Bruce Highway, including working with Coles and Woolworths to undertake an escorted convoy of food trucks from Brisbane to North Queensland.

General Manager (Land Transport Safety and Regulation), Andrew Mahon explained in events of natural disasters, TMR provides assistance for eligible Queenslanders impacted by natural disasters or those who live in declared disaster areas.

“We know times like this are already difficult and emotionally draining. That’s why TMR waives the fee for replacement of lost, damaged or destroyed documentation, such as driver’s licence, in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In addition, TMR’s disaster assistance package provides eligible registered operators with assistance with their vehicle registration. This includes customers paying a three-month registration pay term and being exempt from administration surcharges and late-payment fees.

“We also recognise that because of a flood or a fire, a person may have lost all of their Evidence of Identity documentation. To make life easier during this difficult time, TMR uses its existing facial recognition technology to help identify a person when they transact with TMR. This can save our customers having to source and pay for a replacement document, which could take weeks,” said Andrew.

The department assisted property owners to reinstate damaged boundary fencing along state-controlled roads to help manage livestock movement and mitigate safety risks for drivers, particularly along high-capacity freight routes in North West Queensland.

When completing reconstruction works, the department has processes to ensure environmental standards are met. Every repair site is individually assessed to ensure environmental impacts are minimised, in accordance with legislation.

Some of the damage has been assessed and repaired, and TMR has a reconstruction plan to ensure a coordinated approach to undertake the other long-term repairs to the state-controlled network.

While the series of disaster events in 2018–19 was extraordinary in terms of size, scale and impact, with approximately 56 per cent of Queensland impacted, TMR’s coordinated responsive efforts demonstrated leading practice putting customers first. The department is continuing to scope reconstruction work to be done as the full extent of the damage is still not yet known.

TMR continues to provide regular and ongoing reporting on the recovery of state roads and assets in support of the work of the Queensland Reconstruction Authority. In applying leading practice, to minimise any disruptions to the network, TMR continues to assess and improve systems and processes to enable staff to prepare, prevent, respond and recover from disaster events.