Operators adjust to road closures in aftermath of ex-Cyclone Jasper

Closures of major highways in North Queensland due to ex-Cyclone Jasper damage will force operators to absorb more costs, or pass them on to the customer, warns transport bosses.

Simon Tuxworth, from Tuxworth and Woods, which has depots in Cairns, Mareeba, Cooktown, Weipa and Normanton, and runs 13 road trains to many destinations, said the highway closures after the huge floods had left most of his drivers with no work.

“I still have to pay them and it looks like going on until well after Christmas. But the staff always have to be paid and whilst it is not great I put it down to Mother Nature which you can do nothing about,” Tuxworth said.

Three of the main highways used by his trucks – the Palmerston, Gillies and Kuranda Range stretch of the Kennedy Highway were closed, and that has forced Tuxworth to send freight by sea to Weipa.

“It cost $160,000 by sea barge which I had to pay and I break even on that,” he said.

While a date for the reopening of the Palmerston is not known at the time of writing, the Gillies and Kennedy Highway have opened with traffic lane speed restrictions on some parts.

“The Gillies was open for a few hours at a time on Monday [December 19] and one of our trucks carrying goods and Christmas supplies for Normanton got though,” Tuxworth said.

During the road closures of the Bruce Highway between Ingham and Cairns, many trucks were parked up at various roadhouses waiting patiently for news that the route was open.

When I visited the BP Cluden about 10am on December 19 the parking area was chock-a-block with trucks which had been forced to stay there because of the floods up north.

Numerous Blenners trucks were amongst them and the eatery was busy as drivers came in for late breakfast, a snack, or for an early lunch.

“It has been so busy here today and yesterday and the drivers are all waiting for the northern Bruce Highway and the access to the Atherton Tablelands via the Gillies to open,” one staff member told Big Rigs.

Blenners Transport boss Les Blennerhassett told the Townsville Bulletin that the closure of Palmerston meant the only option for his drivers was to transport produce from the Atherton Tablelands to Cairns by using single road trains.

According to the story, Blenners had already informed its customers it would have to pass on that cost by charging an extra $30 surcharge per pallet.

“Everything coming out the Tablelands will come back through Kuranda and through the Kuranda range as a single trailer,” Blennerhassett said.

“Bringing the freight food back to Cairns, it just adds another six hours a day to your trip, and I’ve got to pay all our drivers, and cost rate to kms.

“It’s the farmer who loses and all the stores we deliver to. The stores could probably put their margins up a little bit to cover it but the farmers, they’re price takers, they can’t say ‘I want this extra per carton now’.”

Cam Duffy, who runs a towing business has depots at Atherton and Malanda, said he had never seen anything like it (the floods) before,

“The Palmerston is closed indefinitely.  Gillies now open.  All safe up here.  Never seen anything like it before,” Duffy said.

The captain Cook Highway was also closed and one resident told Big Rigs there was so much water around.

“It has been raining cats and dogs up here in Mossman and there has been no deliveries for a few days’’ the women said.

Marano’s Fuel has numerous service stations in the far north with three outlets at Mossman, one in Cairns, Edmonton, Port Douglas, Wonga Beach on the way to the Daintree and Cooktown. The trucks of the family business have been delivering fuel for 75 years.

General manager for operations Rickie Aitkin told Big Rigs the business runs 20 trucks and employs around 22 drivers and had been impacted by the floods.

“With the Captain Cook Highway closed we were waiting for the Rex Range Road between the turnoff past Mount Molloy to near Mossman to open as many of the outlets had little or no fuel,” Atkin said.

Even in good weather the Rex Range Road is challenging to travel along and maintenance constantly patrol it to clear fallen branches with many parts being in a rainforest.

“I managed to deliver fuel to the Nine Mile Store and Roadhouse along the Rex Range. Other trucks will soon deliver fuel to the other places up here,” Atkin said.

Atkin said he had sweated on the low-lying road between Mareeba and Mount Molloy which had been covered in water being open which had occurred on Monday night.

“There is really no place for the water to go and you still have to be careful on it,” Atkin said.

A Mossman resident told Big Rigs that as of the afternoon of December 19 the town was still without power or town water.

“It is just good news to hear that fuel and supplies will get through,” she said.

Further away at Wujal Wujal, Big Rigs was told by a resident via email that the Aboriginal community was totally isolated.

“Wujal Wujal is completely cut off, no phone service and isolated until further notice,” she said.

While the 110km part of the Bruce Highway between Townsville and Ingham was not closed many trucks parked up at Andy’s Roadhouse just south of the sugar city as drivers waited for the water between Cardwell and Cairns to subside.

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