Flooding has cut the main road and rail links into Western Australia as drought-breaking storms pass over the Nullarbor.

Floodwaters have blocked both the Trans-Australian Railway line and the Eyre Highway, with both vital freight links expected to remain closed for several days.

The highway is closed between Norseman, 700km east of Perth, and Eucla on the WA-SA border due to water across the road in several locations.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation closed the rail line on Sunday after it was covered by floodwater near Rawlinna, about 400 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder in WA’s Goldfields.

More rain is forecast across the Eucla district this week, with Rawlinna Station already inundated with floodwater.  (Facebook: Ross Wood)

The extent of the damage is unknown at this stage as crews travel to the region.  

Freight on the east-west line has come to a standstill and the Indian Pacific, due to depart Perth on Sunday, has been cancelled. 

The closures are compounded by separate flooding in the state’s far north, which has closed Great Northern Highway between Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing.

Closures could last five days

Department of Fire and Emergency Services deputy assistant commissioner Garry Gifford said the roads and railway line could be closed for up to five days.

“With the forecast which the [Bureau of Meteorology] has provided us with regards to the unprecedented weather which is coming through the southern interior at the moment, we’re certainly planning towards three and five days at this point of view,” he told ABC Regional Drive on Monday afternoon.

As the main freight routes in and out of WA, an extended closure is expected to have a significant economic impact.

Mr Gifford said authorities were working with suppliers to assess the potential impact on the flow of goods into WA.

“I’m being told that basically, the supply chains are up and running, and there should be no immediate impact on supply into the state,” he said.

“Customer behaviour is key during these times and certainly, I wouldn’t be expecting any panic buying at this point in time.”

“The distributors have advised us that there’s plenty of essential supplies in the state, and we’re working with those distributors to assess on a daily basis.”

A Coles spokesperson said the supermarket was monitoring the changing situation and looking at alternative routes to get deliveries to stores. 

Drought-breaking rain surrounds Rawlinna Station, 400km east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder on the Nullarbor Plain.(Facebook: Rawlinna Station)

It is the first significant closure of the railway line since 2022 when floods damaged about 300 kilometres of track near Tarcoola in South Australia and closed the line for 24 days. 

 It was only last month that Balladonia was the scene of bushfires that closed the highway for three days from February 21-24. 

From fires to floods

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, more than 140 millimetres of rain was recorded in the Eucla district in the 24 hours to 9am on Sunday, and there was another 19mm in the 24 hours to 9am Monday. 

Arubiddy Station at Cocklebiddy on the Nullarbor has recorded more than 200mm, while the 24-hour rainfall record at the Eyre Bird Observatory was smashed with 141.2mm, beating the previous mark of 81.2mm.   

“The trough that’s causing this heavy rainfall really hasn’t moved over the weekend,” duty forecaster Jessica Lingard said on Monday morning.  

“The severe weather warning looks exactly the same as when I left on Friday and it’s probably going to stay there for the next 48 to 72 hours, until mid-week when that trough starts to move.”

Pastoralists hail end of dry

Rawlinna Station manager Jimmy Wood said southern parts of the 1 million hectare station had received more than 150mm as of Sunday, which followed 92mm on Australia Day.  

“It hasn’t been long between drinks for us,” he said. 

“We had a big flood on Australia Day and I thought, that’s it, no one will see that again for another 10 years. 

“But barely a month later and here we are again.”

A shed at Rawlinna Station shows how high the floodwater has risen.    (Facebook: Rawlinna Station)

Mr Wood said the station had suffered through six years of drought before this year’s floods.  

“Everyone of the Nullarbor has been hanging out for it … we can categorically say the drought is broken,” he said.  

“It’s just going to be great to see the country come back … if it doesn’t rain for the rest of the year, we’ll still be doing alright.”

Jimmy Wood has been manager of Rawlinna since 2018.(ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas)

Chloe Grainger, from the neighbouring Kanandah Station, said pastoralists had been battling drought conditions for a decade. 

“It’s been a long time since a rainfall event like this,” she said. 

“Surely it’s drought-breaking. This is it. We’re coming out the other end surely, it looks awesome.

“Everyone’s relieved and it’s great to see the land get what it needs.”

More rain is forecast for Rawlinna Station in the coming days.   (Supplied: Facebook/Rawlinna Station)

Northern Goldfields cut off

In WA’s northern Goldfields, flooding has cut the highway between Laverton and Leonora for several days. 

The massive Tropicana gold mine, 330km north of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, reported 200mm of rain between Saturday and Monday.

“No personnel have been evacuated, but the mine site has been operating with a reduced workforce,” a spokesperson for operator AngloGold Ashanti said.

“The safety of everyone on site is a priority and the company continues to monitor weather conditions.”

Shire of Laverton president Pat Hill said the townsite had received more than 100mm over the weekend, which followed 108mm in February, after five years of drought.  

“We’ve had more than a year’s rain fall in the past three weeks,” he said.  

The highway between Laverton and Leonora has been cut off for several days.(Supplied: The Great Beyond Visitor Centre)

Mr Hill said Laverton airport remained open at this stage to service nearby mining operations, and he hoped to avoid a repeat of Cyclone Bobby in 1995 when the Royal Australian Air Force was asked to fly in supplies. 

Tim Carmody’s family runs Prenti Downs station, east of Willuna in the northern Goldfields, and he said more than 135mm of rain had fallen in the past week.

Flooding on the main street of Laverton in WA’s northern Goldfields.  (Supplied: The Great Beyond Visitor Centre)

“When you get a rain event like this, it puts a bit of water in the creeks, hollows and the claypans and the cattle all spread out,” he said.

“What that does is it takes all the grazing pressure off around the watering points and gives them a chance to regenerate.”

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