Grain by train to the Kensington flour mill

In the inner Melbourne suburb of Kensington there is a flour mill – this is the tale of how the grain gets there by train.

Grain wagons stabled in the siding at Kensington

Some history

Kensington has a long history of flour milling, as detailed in the ‘Kensington & Flour Milling Heritage Precinct’ section of the Melbourne Planning Scheme:

In the 1880s several new mills were built on the trunk railways including James Gillespie’s Kensington Roller Flour Mill of 1886-7, Kimpton’s Eclipse Hungarian Roller Flour mills of 1887, and Thomas Brunton’s Australian Flour Mills in 1893-4. Brokhoff biscuits located further south, was also built around 1890 with the intervening space filled with various stores and warehouses serving to milling and baking trade. James Minifie & Co (former head miller at Dight’s Falls Mill and Kempton’s) built his own Victoria Roller Flour Mill in 1906-7 in South Kensington.

With the Kimpton’s mill…


Allied Mills photo

Developing into the flour mill operated by Allied Pinnacle today.

Kimpton’s original mill was burnt out and rebuilt in 1904 and became known as the Kimpton No. 1 Mill, until closed in 1971. The Gillespie mill was bought by Kimpton in 1904 following the liquidation of Gillespie’s Victorian interests, becoming Kimpton No. 2 Mill. It was refitted in 1913, closed in 1976 and demolished in 1982.

The Kimpton No. 3 mill was built in 1927 on the corner of Elizabeth and Arden Street. A merger of three prominent milling firms created Kimpton Minifie McLennan Pty Ltd in the 1960s, which was bought out by Allied Mills in 1981, then Goodman Fielder. As a result, a new mill was erected north of the silos in the 1990s.

Moving grain by train

Grain is grown across Western Victoria.

Pair of GYs abandoned in the paddock beside the grain silos

Being moved by truck from farm to silo.

Semi trailer tipping a load of grain into the silo receival chute

Then loaded into trains.

Loading silos at the Birchip GrainFlow terminal

Then off to the city.

Still waiting at Dunolly, the crossing loop is out of use and the junction is manually operated, after a derailed PN grain took it all out a few weeks back

Headed through the countryside.

El Zorro grain outside Lethbridge passing the old quarry

Until the train enters Melbourne.

WGSY grain wagons snaking through the curves

Grain trains take the freight tracks past South Kensington station.

Tail end of the Kensington grain on the goods lines through South Kensington

Until they reach North Melbourne, where the engines have to run around to the other end of train.

B75 and S317 run around their train at North Melbourne with an empty grain bound for Kensington

With that done, it’s just a short trip over to Kensington station.

S317 and B75 arrive at Kensington with an empty grain train

The train stops in the platform.

SSR grain train ready to be pushed into the mill siding at Kensington

And is then pushed back into the flour mill siding.

SSR grain train ready to be pushed into the mill siding at Kensington

The wagons are then pushed through the unloading shed.

BGGX (ex VHGY) grain wagons awaiting unloading at Kensington

Two wagons at a time.

S317 shunting grain wagons at Kensington

With the grain being unloaded between the tracks via bottom discharge doors.

No need for the ratchet gun - the new WGSY wagons have pneumatically operated bottom discharge doors

Until the entire train is done.

Once the train is empty, it’s time to change the points.

Second person waiting on the shunt out of the mill at Kensington

Then push the train back out onto the main line.

S317 and S302 push the consist out of the mill siding at Kensington

Then change ends, back to North Melbourne, change ends a second time, and finally back to the country for another load.

S302 leads S317 along the goods lines through South Kensington on the down

And all this while sharing the tracks with suburban trains on the Craigieburn line.

Comeng passes the mill sidings at Kensington on an up Craigieburn service

What is the grain turned into?

In 2011 Allied Mills described their operations at Kensington in a submission to the City of Melbourne for the Arden-Macaulay Structure Plan.

The Allied Mills Site has been an operational flour mill since 1887. Allied Mills manufactures and distributes milling based products including but not limited to:

a) flours for bread, cake, pastry, biscuits, noodle and culinary applications;
b) premixes for bread, cake, donut and culinary applications; and
c) specialty meals, semolinas and brans.

The composition of the flour milling industry has changed drastically over the last century. In the 1870s there were 160 flour mills in Victoria which has now been reduced to three. Allied Mills owns and operates eight flour mills nationally, located in each Australian state. In Victoria, the sites are based in Kensington and Ballarat, with Kensington being one of the largest Australian sites and representing approximately one fifth of its total operations. It is therefore strategically essential to Allied Mills’ operations.

Allied Mills is an integral component of the Australian flour milling industry. Approximately 90% of the Australian flour milling industry is comprised of three major companies of broadly equal market share. These are Allied Mills, George Weston Foods and Manildra. Allied Mills presently services the vast majority of all multinational food manufacturer flour requirements in Australia, most of whom are common Australian household names. Further, Allied Mills holds a majority portion of the bulk flour market and significant portions of both the bagged flour market and bakery mix market.

By 2017 Allied Mills was processing 800,000 tonnes of wheat and speciality grains a year into flour and other products across their operations.

And how many trains?

Back in 2017 grain trains were visiting Kensington three times a week, each train made up of 20 wagons, each loaded with 55 tonnes of grain – or 3300 tonnes of grain a week.

Off to market

Compare this how much grain a truck can move – between 16 and 65.6 tonnes – or the equivalent of 50+ trucks driving through suburban Kensington.

What about the future

With the warehouses around Kensington subject to the Arden-Macaulay Structure Plan, how long will a flour mill survive in the middle of a forest of apartments?

Timber cottages in Kensington

But a bigger problem is the sourcing of grain in Victoria following the Murray Basin Rail Projectflagged as an issue in 2017.

Exacerbating this issue is the change of rail gauge in western Victoria from broad gauge to standard gauge. As the rail line and siding at Kensington is broad gauge, the site can no longer accept grain delivery by train from western Victorian growers. This has the impact of reducing grain supply via rail and increasing grain delivery by truck increasing the truck movements at the site.

But there is a possible solution – transporting grain in containers.

Reach stacker unloads containers from the train

Or the ‘nuclear’ option – relocation.

The Sydney experience

Until 2009 the Mungo Scott flour mill operated at Summer Hill in Sydney’s inner west, and was supplied by train by trains on the Rozelle goods line.

Mungo Scott flour mill on the Rozelle goods line

Until it was replaced by a new flour mill at Picton, south of Sydney, built on a greenfields site right beside the Main South railway line.

Allied Mills flour mill at Maldon, beside the Main South line

Which allows both the receival of grain and despatch of flour by rail.

Mix of hoppers all covered with flour - the train runs between Nowra and Narrandera for Manildra Group

I wonder how much longer until rising land values at Kensington leads to a similar move in Victoria?

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9 Responses to “Grain by train to the Kensington flour mill”

  1. Kevin says:

    Even if relocation is the long term preference, why can’t points be added on the UP side (city end) of the mill siding to prevent those trains using the Macaulay Rd crossing?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Two problems.

      EDI Comeng 412M on a down Craigieburn service at Kensington

      First is that there are two sets of tracks from Kensington towards North Melbourne:

      – the ground level tracks normally used by suburban services for the City Loop,
      – and the high level flyover towards North Melbourne platform 5/6 and the goods lines.

      The grain train needs to use the high level tracks to head back west, but the sidings are beside the low level tracks.

      Second problem is that the city end of the siding is at a different level from the main line, so it’d need to be rebuilt to connect.

      • Robbie says:

        I’ve often wondered how much it would cost to rebuild that flyover so that Down suburban services go under the flyover, eliminating the conflict between the two routes. It’s a little complicated by the presence of a road under the junction, but I’m sure it could be done. Admittedly it would’ve made more sense to have been done in pre-City Loop days when suburban trains went over the top and country trains went direct to North Melbourne. The whole North Melbourne junction (plus Spion Kop) is quite constrained, but it wouldn’t be that hard to design a much better junction that minimises conflicting moves.

  2. Andrew says:

    I expect you are correct about the relocation. It sounds like a very antiquated system to get the train into the siding to unload. I recently read how slow the train is to being grain to Melbourne and our port. It is not a great political story for the front of our newspapers, but our country really needs to invest in rail freight, especially where it is a no brainer, like freight between Melbourne and Sydney. I wonder how the fuel costs for the hundreds of trucks plying the highway between the two cities compare to the fuel costs for moving the same amount of freight by rail, including the add on local transport costs that could be involved with rail.

  3. Pierre says:

    Enjoyable read!
    I grew up in the shadow of those silos, will be sad to see them go

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