Rockhampton Flood Crisis – City Isolated

Posted on Tue 01/04/2011 by



Before I go any further, let me say right up front that the engineering aspects I’m posting about here come from the point of view of a layman, but it proved an interesting thing to do as I worked it all through. When it comes to expertise on some engineering subjects, most readers who follow my Posts know that my field of expertise is in the Electrical Engineering field, especially all forms of power plants, and that is where the vast bulk of my Posts come from.

In an earlier Post at the following link, I showed the Fitzroy River Barrage and made some observations on that with respect to its construction, and how carefully and cleverly all aspects were taken into account for something that is basically not even given a second thought.

The Rockhampton Flood Crisis – The Fitzroy River Barrage

Since moving here in August, and also having visited our daughter and her family three times previously before moving here, and twice when she lived at Blackwater to the West of here, I always wondered about that Yeppen flood plain on the South Western outskirts of the city, mainly how it was the only way into Rockhampton from the South and also with the rail link closely following the highway, which has the same ramifications.

I want you to look closely at this map of the local area in question here, and if you click on the image it will open in a new and larger window, and you can navigate back and forth while I explain it.

This image shows just part of the flood plain, and is in the main, the area I wish to relate to.

At the top of the image you can see the south-western outskirts of the City. The flood plain extends to the North , following the outskirts. Follow a line through those outskirts to right as you look at the image, through Port Curtis and down and to the right, off the map. You see the town of Gracemere on the left there . The flood plain reaches the outskirts of that town. So, all that area in the centre of the map is (part of) the Yeppen flood Plain.

As you can see the two major road links join at the large roundabout just below Fairy Bower there. To the North is the entrance into Rockhampton, the only entry point from the South. Going West from that roundabout (off to the left) is the Capricorn Highway, the main link to the West of the State in this area. Off to the South of the Roundabout is the Bruce Highway, part of the main national Australian eastern seaboard Highway One. All three roads leading from that large roundabout are smack in the middle of this Yeppen Flood Plain, and are now under water.

Now, just to the right of that roundabout as you look at the map. you can see what is the main rail link into the City. It goes over a small bridge and off into Rockhampton. It follows the Bruce Highway South for a way and just beyond the big green A1 icon there you can see the branch line entering from the West. Trace that line back to Gracemere, and it also goes off to the West.

Both rail lines are also closed, and while they may not be completely under water, they are cut, and no trains have been running on them since Christmas Eve, now 12 days.

That line is the main line to the vastly huge coal deposits in the Bowen Basin starting at around the Blackwater area and covering a huge area with many major coal mines. This area produces some of the best black coal on Planet Earth, that same Bowen Basin coal sought after around the World, both as Coking Coal used in the production of Steel, and Steaming coal for use in coal fired power plants.

That coal is transported from the fields in the Bowen Basin to the coal loading port of Gladstone to the South of Rockhampton. Those coal trains are huge, and anything up to one kilometre in length, each hauled along by 5 Diesel Electric locomotives. They haul 100 large coal hoppers, and each hopper carries 100 tons of coal, hence each of those trains carries 10,000 tons of coal. Four of these huge outfits loaded with coal come down that line from the coal fields each and every hour, 24 hours a day. That’s around 100 of those trains every day, and that amounts to one million tons of coal being hauled along that line every day of the year.

As I mentioned, the rail link through that Yeppen area has been closed now for 12 days. The flood peak arrives on Wednesday some time, and after that peak of 9.4 metres passes, that level will be maintained for 2 or 3 days before it (hopefully) starts to fall. However, that fall will be excruciatingly slow, and is expected to stay above 8.5 metres for anything up to 10 to 14 days, and then start to drop off again. That secondary fall also will be slow, and will probably not get back to a level where they can safely open that rail link for even longer, possibly anything up to a month, and even then, only after careful checking of the track, and if there is any damage at all, then opening up that line will take an even longer period of time.

I would have thought that with the importance that the coal export trade has, both to Queensland, and Australia, then that important rail link would have been engineered in much the same manner as they engineered the Fitzroy River Barrage.

As I mentioned in that earlier Post I linked to above, the Barrage was constructed taking many things into account so that the top of the Barrage, during a major flood would still be above the level of fast moving water. That engineering took into account the fact that excess water over and above a certain height flowed over the top of the River’s trench that it flows in, at the bottom of that big loop where the river changes direction back to the North. (shown on the map in that earlier Post I linked to above about the Barrage)

When this happens, it then fills that Yeppen Flood Plain from the North, where it joins up with the water flowing into that flood plain from the southern loop in the River, also shown at that same map in the linked Post. That Yeppen flood plain gradually fills, the water spreading, dissipating into a wider area, and slowing down its speed, and now covering an area almost 5 miles wide and spreading.

So, using that same clever engineering that went into the construction of the Barrage, they knew for a fact what the maximum height the water would get to, even in that Yeppen flood plain.

Using that same knowledge, would it not then stand to reason that they would construct the rail link, raised to a level above that known height. The same would apply for the main Highway links as well.

Instead, both the rail link and the road link, in effect the main artery to the North of the State, and the main artery to those vital coal fields now sits under water, and will do so for quite a while yet. Even after the flood dissipates, the road will now need major work to get it back to the state it was prior to this flood disaster.

Now I can understand that when making road and rail links like this, the cost is immense. Knowing that, the extra money spent up front when these vital road and rail networks were updated, then they should have been raised to that known level, instead of gambling that a flood of this magnitude would not come along again, and they knew the engineering back in 1970 when they constructed the Barrage.

Keep in mind where I mentioned the immense cost of the work this would have entailed.

Now we stand at the point where all coal movements have stopped completely, so let’s do a little Maths to add to the engineering.

The price of coking coal and steaming coal is around $70 per ton, and that’s probably conservative. At one million tons a day now not moving, and not having done so for the last 12 days, and facing the probability that it may not be running for another 28 days at best, we are now looking at 40 days lost movement at one million tons a day, or 40 million tons, and at that price the total comes to $2.8 Billion.

The State Government makes royalties from the sale of coal, and those Royalties are in the vicinity of 7.5%.

7.5% of the lost $2.8 Billion comes to $210 Million.

That’s just money lost to the State Government coffers alone, just from the royalties of the coal sales.

They could have spent that money in the first place to flood proof that vital rail link, well more flood proofed than it is now I suppose.

Even now, perhaps they could spend that money to upgrade that rail link.

Oh! Wait a minute. The State Government just sold off the rail network to private enterprise a couple of months back to raise money to give away at the next election for vitally needed infrastructure.


Dodged a bullet there didn’t they?

That link would be worth considerably less now if that sale was delayed somewhat.

Anyway, now that it’s in private hands, those new owners can shell out part of their profits to upgrade the line.

Well, let’s wait and see if that happens.

Maybe the Federal Government might step in and spend some of their money on upgrading the link. After all, they are trying to introduce legislation to add an extra tax on those mining Company profits in the form of the mining superannuation tax. So, if they shelled out Government money on upgrading the line, in effect they would be looking after their own interests, because mining company profits must be somewhat less if they cannot get their coal to the Port for export for such a long time.

This same Federal Government shelled out billions on the Education revolution to construct new infrastructure at schools, a program that was consistently rorted. They shelled out hundreds of millions on a patently failed home insulation scheme, and almost as much again on the clean up following that little disaster.

Will they step in to protect their investment, and again we are caught holding our collective breath.

Some may say that all I have mentioned above is moot because those major coal mines are also affected by the floods and are not in fact digging the coal out of the ground, but something like this flood proofing of major arteries like this in Rockhampton IS ACTUALLY nation building. It IS ACTUALLY in the national interest. It IS ACTUALLY vital national infrastructure. It IS ACTUALLY something worthwhile doing.

The same also could be said for that vital road link, now also cut off. Right now, the State Government, and the Federal Government are going to actually have to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars to repair the National Highway One, the Bruce Highway, in this area that is now under water at Yeppen, and also in other areas of that Highway.

Perhaps now, they might actually use some of that clever engineering that got the Barrage constructed and use that to upgrade the vital road link to a level above what is a KNOWN flood peak level.

This might be a case of my ‘ballparking’ what should happen, and some might also say that this is also me having a ‘dig’ at State and Federal Governments, but something like this now does become political.

We can see politicians of every flavour, both State and Federal being shocked at what they are seeing, and in effect coming here for little more than glorified photo ops, and I understand that is harsh, as they are probably doing all they can, but it just ‘seems’ to me that what they are saying sounds scripted even, and what they think the people would like to hear. We know that. We ‘get’ it. The fact is we are in it.

What we need to see now is for all those arms of Government, both State and Federal, actually doing something concrete, because after all, in effect they are only looking after their own interests.


The level at the Rockhampton flood gauge indicates 9.2 metres, and the river is still rising towards that expected peak of 9.4 metres , so now we should only see an extra rise of 8 inches, seemingly very little, until you stand in the middle of the bridge at the bottom of Musgrave Street and watch that huge expanse of dirty brown water roaring under your feet.

The latest river heights as of 6 PM on Tuesday show all but two of the recording stations falling and the vital Riverslea recording station falling as well. It would seem that the peak is slowly flowing down the Fitzroy, and Rockhampton, like it has been doing for the last few days now is just waiting in this slow motion disaster to inexorably unfold.

It looks great on the Tele, and sometimes I wish that’s all I was doing, watching it on the Tele, preferably from somewhere else, and not here in Rockhampton.

UPDATE 1 (Wednesday morning)

I’ve added this full list here of flood heights from the measuring stations on the Rivers in the system.

Note how all the stations are showing either steady or falling.

Note also how the vital station at Riverslea has moved back to a rising trend, as the flood peaks from the South in the Dawson, and from the North in the McKenzie move into the Fitzroy. However, even while that Riverslea station shows a rising trend, that current level is still below what that same station was showing as the maximum height before it started to fall.

The information about each of the Rivers is also useful as well.

Issued at 6:25 AM on Wednesday the 5th of January 2011 by the Bureau of Meteorology, Brisbane.

Major flooding continues along the Dawson, Comet, Mackenzie and Fitzroy Rivers.

The Fitzroy River at Rockhampton was 9.2 metres at 5am Wednesday, steady and nearing its peak which is expected to last for at least 36 hours. Further small rises above 9.2 metres are expected during today.

Flood levels will remain above the major flood level of 8.5 metres for 1 week after the peak.

Moderate flooding will continue to ease on the Isaac River at Yatton.

Major flooding will continue to ease along the Comet River during this week.

Major flooding is occurring along the Mackenzie River, where the main flood peak is now downstream of Tartrus. Levels will fall gradually between the Comet confluence and Tartrus.

Major flooding is easing between Theodore through to Knebworth including the towns of Moura and Baralaba. Flood levels are expected to continue falling.

The Fitzroy River at Riverslea continues to fall. At 5am Wednesday, the river was at 26.57 metres with major flooding. Levels at Riverslea are expected to fall very slowly during this week.

At Yaamba, flood levels currently remain steady; at 6pm Tuesday the river level was 16.55 metres and steady. Flood levels are expected to start falling today.

The Fitzroy River at Rockhampton was 9.2 metres at 5am Wednesday, steady and nearing its peak which is expected to last for at least 36 hours. Further small rises above 9.2 metres are expected during today. Rockhampton river levels are expected to remain above 8.5 metres (major) for 1 week after the peak.

Predicted River Heights/Flows:

Theodore: Major flood levels will fall slowly through this week but remain above 12 metres until the weekend.

Moura: Major flood levels will fall slowly through this week.

Baralaba: Major flood levels will fall but remain above major flood level (9 metres) until the weekend.


Yaamba: Remain around the major flood level of 16.55 metres but is expected to start falling during today. River levels to remain high for several days.

Rockhampton: Further small rises above 9.2 metres are expected during today and remaining above 8.5 metres for 1 week after the peak which is expected to last for at least 36 hours.

Next Issue:
The next warning will be issued at about noon Wednesday. (River heights are constantly updated on the Bureau website.)

Latest River Heights:
Dawson R at Taroom * 3.63m steady 04:00 AM WED 05/01/11
Dawson R at Theodore 13.7m falling slowly 03:00 PM TUE 04/01/11
Dawson R at Baralaba 13.95 falling slowly 09:00 PM TUE 04/01/11
Dawson R at Beckers * 16.86m falling 02:00 AM WED 05/01/11
Dawson R at Knebworth * 16.28m falling 05:10 AM WED 05/01/11
Comet R at Comet Weir * 10.19m falling 04:00 AM WED 05/01/11
Nogoa R at Fairbairn Dam HW * 2.04m falling 05:10 AM WED 05/01/11
Nogoa R at Emerald # 11.6m falling 05:14 AM WED 05/01/11
Mackenzie R at Bedford Weir TW # 19.61m falling 05:25 AM WED 05/01/11
Mackenzie R at Bingegand Weir HW # 9.98m falling 05:35 AM WED 05/01/11
Connors R at Pink Lagoon * 7.39m falling 04:00 AM WED 05/01/11
Isaac R at Yatton * 10.48m falling 04:00 AM WED 05/01/11
Mackenzie R at Tartrus * 15.77m falling 05:45 AM TUE 04/01/11
Fitzroy R at Riverslea * 26.59m rising 04:00 AM WED 05/01/11
Fitzroy R at Rockhampton 9.2m steady 05:00 AM WED 05/01/11