Freight firms battle the elements

Leading companies look for ways to cope with the Queensland flood disaster's impact

By Ruza Zivkusic | January 13, 2011

Many supply chains into and within Queensland and northern New South Wales are at a halt as major transport companies wait for floodwaters to dissipate.

As Brisbane and the 70 towns and cities affected by the floods brace for a clean-up, many truck drivers have been forced to sit and wait to deliver emergency relief.

Some Linfox drivers have been stuck for days north of Brisbane, unable to restock.

Linfox has started redirecting trucks through western Queensland, on their way to NSW after delivering freight to Townsville and Cairns.

They are also opening a shipping route from Sydney to ferry supplies to north Queensland.

Linfox spokesman Gary Max says the disaster has had a heavy impact on the company, with 150 trucks brought to a standstill.

"Last week, we brought up 21 trucks to Queensland from NSW so drivers could help with the additional challenges of supplying to areas," Max says.

"It’s affected us significantly and it’s hard to keep up to date with that information.

"Together with Agility Logistics, we have organised to ship cargo up to Townsville as an alternative way of getting supplies, delivering a range of products.

"The rail line between Brisbane and northern Queensland has been cut and that’s the main impact."

Linfox has established a control centre in Brisbane to monitor the situation and stay in touch with its customers.

Only one of its Brisbane depots is still closed this afternoon after three were affected earlier.

The financial impacts are yet to be defined.

"At the moment we’re just trying to keep things going as much as we can for our customers," Max says.

"They understand what’s going on and we’re in constant contact with them; in many instances some of the retailers are closed anyway."

While the disaster has touched many in some ways, some of Linfox’s staff is finding it impossible to get to work due to blocked roads, and the house of one of them has been washed away by the floods, Max says.

"A lot of different stories are coming through now," he adds.

"We’ll be monitoring the situation on an hour-by-hour basis to see how things are going; once the flood starts to recede, which they tell us will happen over the next few days, there will be a lot of clean up and it will take a lot of time to get through this."

Allied Express Transport staff in Rocklea, Queensland, worked until the last minute before flood waters engulfed their office.

While many of the surrounding businesses evacuated earlier this week, Allied staff left their office, which was greatly damaged by the floods, just yesterday, Managing Director Michelle McDowell says.

Staff concentrated on moving freight to higher ground, though that meant leaving office equipment to the elements.

"Rather than worrying about our own computers and phone system, which has been highly damaged, they’ve put customers first," McDowell says.

"They’re tired and emotional because obviously they’ve got lots of family and friends affected but they’re good people and they’ve worked hard.

"I think the people of Queensland have done a phenomenal job coming together and supporting each other.

"In the end, businesses need to remember it’s a human tragedy and disaster.

"A lot of people have been personally affected."

Ceva Logistics in Rocklea has also closed its office due to rising waters.

The disaster is a testing time for Ceva Logistics employees who are working in difficult conditions both at work and at home, the global supply chain management company’s South Pacific Executive Vice President Giuseppe de Vincenzo says.

"While our Carole Park operation remains on high alert and is bracing for further flash-flooding in the area, it remains fully operational along with other facilities in the states south-east at Acacia Ridge, Banyo and Willawong."

Supply chain provider 1st Fleet is still counting its revenue losses as only six of the 16 freight carriers have managed to deliver goods over the past two days to Queensland.

1st Fleet’s Operations Manager Chris Horn says its 290 customers were patient regarding the situation.

"They’re positive and just want to keep the communication open," Horn says.

Long hauls between Sydney and Brisbane were stopped yesterday and are likely to resume tomorrow, he adds.

Eight trucks from Border Express are currently stuck at various roadblocks near Grafton and Coffs Harbour, Managing Director Grant Luff says from Albury.

Its Richlands office near Brisbane is closed, with staff either at home or helping family and friends affected by the floods.

"We tried doing some deliveries yesterday but it became too difficult; you don’t know what roads are open and even if you did come through, a lot of businesses were closed, so we were only able to deliver half the freight that were on the trucks," Luff says.

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