Shipping steel on the Frankston line

This is the tale of the 40 wagon long train that heads along the Frankston line, shipping steel to the BlueScope Steel plant at Hastings.

G541 and classmate lead the up Long Island steel train over the rollercoaster grades towards Ormond station

Twice a day a train departs the Melbourne Freight Terminal at South Dynon.

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

Over the rollercoaster grades at Ormond, McKinnon and Bentleigh.

G541 and classmate lead the up Long Island steel train over the rollercoaster grades towards Ormond station

Eventually making it south to 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

Turning off the main line at Long Island Junction.

BL34 and BL39 wait at Long Island Junction for a signal onto the main line

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

Photo via Southern Peninsula News

Some history

The steel mill at Hastings was opened by Lysaght in 1972. Lysaght’s was acquired by BHP in 1979, demerged as BHP Steel in 2002, and then renamed BlueScope Steel in 2003.

The Victorian Government encouraged the development of the plant with the passing of the Western Port (Steel Works) Act 1970 – specific provisions relating to rail were:

The Premier on behalf of the State covenants that the State will ensure that there shall be provided –

  • to the boundary of the Plant Site a suitable rail link by which rail facilities constructed by the Company at its cost within its boundaries may be connected to the Victorian Railways network;
  • adequate rail motive power and rolling stock and suitable rail services to ensure the satisfactory movement of materials products and equipment to and from the Plant;
  • rail transportation services for the conveyance of employees of the Company or its site contractors to and from the Plant

under such conditions as are agreed between the Victorian Railways Commissioners and the Company.

The 6.2 km long branch line from the Stony Point line opened in 1969, with 87,730 tons of traffic being moved over the new connection in 1972/1973. The efficiency of these trains was improved following the introduction of dedicated block trains, with 50,000 tonnes of coiled steel transported from Hastings during 1981/82.

Weston Langford photo #115670

The Hastings Port industrial area land use plan detailed the operation of the mill during the 1990s:

Steel slab is brought in by rail and ship, primarily from Port Kembla, for processing into a range of finished-steel products for the local, national and international markets. Products are sent by truck to the local market, by rail to interstate markets in South Australia and Western Australia, and by ship to international markets. Presently BHP sends 300 000 tonnes of steel a year by rail from Whyalla and Port Kembla to Westernport, but has an agreement which would permit this tonnage to be increased to 800,000 tonnes.

BHP is constantly reviewing and upgrading its operations to increase efficiency and become more export-orientated. A new cold-strip galvanised steel production line has recently been commissioned at a cost of some $138 million. Presently BHP steelworks employs 1500 persons and produces approximately 1.2 million tonnes of steel a year from a plant that has a capacity to produce 2.6 million tonnes. The new galvanised steel line increased production capacity by some 800 000 tonnes without requiring any large increase in staff numbers.

Today the steel trains are operated by Pacific National following the sale of the National Rail Corporation in 2002, and form the sole freight link to the mill following the 2012 retirement of the ‘Iron Monarch’ that moved slab steel by sea between Port Kembla and Hastings.

Empty coil steel wagons the the rear of the up steel train arriving at the Melbourne Freight Terminal

Facts and figures

Today each steel train is made up of 40 wagons and is hauled by a pair two 2,830 kW (3,800 hp) G class diesel locomotives, with approximately 600,000 tonnes of steel product per annum moved by rail to Hastings.

Made train is made up of a mix of wagons with pairs of ‘jumbo’ coils of steel.

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

And ‘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, a total of 320 truck movements are required to move the same load.

Rail gauge troubles

Australia’s rail gauge muddle has complicated the operation of trains to Hastings – steel loaded on broad gauge trains from Hastings needs to be transferred onto standard gauge trains to head interstate.

Gantry crane at Albury looking north

Initially this occurred at Albury and Adelaide, until the gauge conversion of the Melbourne–Adelaide rail corridor by the National Rail Corporation in 1995. This saw the opening of the Melbourne Steel Terminal in West Melbourne, where the steel would be transhipped between local broad gauge trains and interstate standard gauge trains.

BL34, BL32, BL30 and BL29 shunting wagons beneath the Mi-Jack crane used for transhipping loads

This terminal closed in 2015 to make room for the ‘E’ Gate development, with transhipping of steel now occurring at the nearby Melbourne Freight Terminal.

Reach stacker at work loading the train with coil steel at the Melbourne Freight Terminal

The provision of standard gauge access to Hastings has been examined multiple times, via the Frankston or Cranbourne lines, but no progress has been made towards such a connection.

And elsewhere in Australia

Steel trains to Hastings form a small part of the work that Pacific National does for BlueScope Steel and Arrium across Australia. In 2003 the deal was valued at $400 million over four years, and was followed in 2006 by a $1 billion seven year contract, which was extended for another seven years from 2015.

A total of 2.3 million tonnes of steel moved by rail in 2013:

  • 1.38 Million is Port Kembla and Westernport outbound
  • 0.96 Million is transported on behalf of Onesteel

The reason for these massive numbers – each piece of steels moves an average of 3.2 times through manufacturing plants, rail terminals, distribution centres and customer sites.

To cater for this traffic, a specialised fleet of wagons is used:

  • Steel Coil – 2.5-28t (Horizontal and Vertical), 285 ‘butter box’ wagons
  • Steel Plate In & Out of Gauge – 67 flat wagons, 55 tilt wagons
  • Structural Beams – Shared fleet, typical 5-15 wagon per week
  • Scrap – 46 scrap box’s, 23 container wagons
  • Raw Materials – 3 locomotive Sets, 100 wagons

Which results in varied trains.

NR120 and NR88 lead a short up steel train at Brooklyn


Think this look familiar? It’s an expanded version of my 2018 post Rail replacement trucks for the Frankston line. 😉

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15 Responses to “Shipping steel on the Frankston line”

  1. Chris Gordon says:

    The third dot point about providing rail transportation for employees and contractors to the site is interesting. I suspect by the 1970s it was too late to consider running a workers train to the plant and everyone drove instead?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I found it interesting as well – and assumed they never ran given the rise of motor vehicles.

      Compare this to the special platforms opened to serve workers at factories next to existing railways – Westall in 1954, then General Motors and Upfield in 1956.

      • Tom the first and best says:

        I suspect that the distance between the steelworks and the Stony Point line was one reason that no services seem to have been provided, as they would have been less efficient branching services. Had the steelworks been built next to/across the road from the main line, a station and increased Stony Point line services would have been much more likely.

        When Westall was built in 1954, the Cain Senior ALP government was in power. They probably got the ball rolling with the Upfield extension as well (Upfield appears also to have been in the then marginal urban fringe/rural (20% Country Party vote in the 1955 election) seat of Broadmeadows).

  2. mich says:

    I may have mismatched he captions, but it looks like some of your references to coils and sheet are the wrong way around.

    The Hastings factory orignally had a hot-strip mill which converts large rectngular slabs of steel into coils of hot-rolled steel 3-5 mm thick. These are the large dark grey cylinders riding around on the train unprotected.

    The hot strip mill was closed down years ago. So the coils of hot-rolled strip steel were originally the output of the plant but now they are the input.

    They still have a cold mill which rolls the strip thinner to make roofing or (formerly) cars, refrigerators etc out of. This stuff is more weather-sensitive.

  3. […] attaches them to a southbound freight train bound for Newscatle, and then onto the tail end of a southbound steel train for the trip to […]

  4. Rob Daly says:

    Hi, does anyone know where I can find the timetable for the train? I am based on Highett and my little boy loves watching this train. Although we have only ever seen it unintentionally when at the shops.

  5. Marcus says:

    Does anyone know if the Frankston freight/steel train is running again and if there is a time table?

    Keen to find out what times the steel train runs past Cheltenham-Mentone

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