Rail replacement trucks for the Frankston line

During May and June 2018 no trains are running on the Frankston line beyond Carrum due to level crossing removal works, with passengers being transported on rail replacement buses. But they aren’t the only ones being disrupted – freight trains are also being replaced by road transport.

Twice a day a 40 wagon long train departs the Melbourne Freight Terminal at South Dynon bound for the BlueScope Steel plant on the Stony Point line at Hastings.

XR558 and G541 wait for their train to be loaded with coil steel at the Melbourne Freight Terminal

The train skirts the edge of Southern Cross Station.

XR558 and XR559 southbound at Southern Cross with a load of coil steel

Then rolls through the river end of Flinders Street Station.

BL29 on the down load of 'butterbox' coil steel containers through Flinders Street track 9A

Then traverses the tracks at Richmond Junction.

'Butterbox' coil steel wagons make up the rear half of the train

Heads towards Caulfield.

G531 and G541 lead the down Long Island train through Malvern station

Eventually making it south towards Frankston.

Load of coil steel on the down Long Island steel train at Frankston

Then heads along the single track Stony Point line.

XR551 and BL30 with the down steel train outside Frankston with a load of 'butterbox' coil steel containers

To arrive at the BlueScope Steel plant beside Westernport Bay in Hastings.


Photo via Southern Peninsula News

So how many trucks are needed?

As you might imagine, steel is bloody heavy.

Each of the first 20 wagons are loaded with a pair of ‘jumbo’ coils of steel sheet.

G528 and XR551 leads the down steel train past North Melbourne station

While the 20 wagons at the rear carry a pair of ‘butterbox’ containers of coil steel.

'Butterbox' containers trailing a load of coil steel on the down journey

The average wagon has a tare mass of around 20 tonnes (based on a RKLX class wagon) and with a loaded gross mass of 74 to 79 tonnes – or 30 tonnes for a single container!

For the proposes of comparison, the permitted gross vehicle mass of a standard six-axle semi-trailer in Victoria is 42.5 tonnes – or a single container per truck.

With 40 containers and 40 steel coils per train, and two trains per day each way, that is an extra 320 trucks on the Monash Freeway each day.

Good thing the trains will return in June 2018!

The impact of rail shutdowns on freight operators

Australian Paper is another industry dependent on rail as part of their supply train, with a daily train doing the work of 40 trucks. When the rail corridor to Gippsland was severed in 2012, they had to quickly shuffle their operations.

Australian Paper general manager packaging, procurement and external relations Julian Mathers said the Maryvale mill was one of the state’s largest users of the Port of Melbourne, transporting 240,000 tonnes of paper products to the port via the Gippsland rail line annually, with six freight train services using the line every week.

The temporary closure of the rail line east of Moe for seven weeks last year required a “huge logistical response” by the company to continue its output via road transport, Mr Mather said.

“When you consider the volumes that are going out – our rail freight represents about 40 per cent of products moved out of Maryvale – we had to put in a lot of work in rescheduling deliveries on the road,” he said.

As did a second unplanned shutdown in October 2014.

Meanwhile the train line’s largest freight user, Australian Paper, has been forced to source emergency road transport amid the rail line’s temporary closure.

Transporting more than 300 shipping containers of paper product to Melbourne ports every week across a minimum of seven services, the Morwell bridge closure has cut off a major supply route for the company.

A fully packed freight train sat idle on the line on Friday afternoon, as V/Line announced the track’s indefinite closure, before it was eventually allowed to pass through.

Australian Paper national logistics manager Phillip Porter said the company’s freight contractor Qube Logistics had reshuffled its broader trucking fleet to meet the sudden shortfall in transport capacity.

Mr Porter said Qube had brought in a fleet of ‘Skel’ trailers, capable of carrying single shipping containers, while extra ‘tautliner’ trucks had been brought online.

“Qube has a range of trucks performing different tasks, which they have shuffled… to free them up for us,” Mr Porter said.

“The trucks are working on 12-hour shifts so they can do two full trips in that time.”

But even planned shutdowns impact operations at the mill.

But generally speaking getting access to the track and setting up a regular schedule is reasonably achievable. It is accommodating the outages. If they are going to have a big break over Easter, we need to essentially get an extra four trains down in the previous couple of weeks, and getting the extra services slotted in is where the trouble is.

And we have to have made the product early, hence we have got a cash flow issue, or we have to get the containers early, or we have to purchase or hire extra containers. It results in either a stockpile of containers or a stockpile of product. I suppose the major thing really is the alignment of those outages.

What we observe is that the timing of the outages for Metro rail do not tend to align to the outages for V/Line, and we get a sequence of outages on following weekends, which should just be consolidated and minimised. I suppose we get a lot this second-hand through our rail provider. Qube is actually the one doing the service scheduling and deals directly with V/Line and Metro rail. What they are telling us is that there are these difficulties in coordinating these activities.

Nothing in logistics is ever simple!

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5 Responses to “Rail replacement trucks for the Frankston line”

  1. […] much heavier freight task is the movement of steel products from the BlueScope Steel plant at Hastings, to the Melbourne Steel Terminal next door to […]

  2. […] also swung past the Melbourne Steel Terminal, used to tranship freight for the BlueScope Steel plant on the Stony Point line at […]

  3. […] And 3000 tonnes of coil steel, headed for Hastings. […]

  4. […] Just before lunchtime the southbound steel train passes through, headed for the Bluescope steel mill at Hastings. […]

  5. […] truck. With 40 containers and 40 steel coils per train, and two trains per day each way, a total of 320 truck movements are required to move the same […]

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