Moving paper by train from Gippsland

Welcome to another instalment in my series on rail freight across Victoria – this time we’re looking at the Australian Paper mill at Maryvale, outside Morwell in Gippsland.

Train split into two for shunting

Headed down the line

Six days a week, a train leaves the paper mill at Maryvale.

H4 leading T402 and A78 awaits departure from Maryvale

It heads along a single track siding to the mainline.

Down the line a bit more

Where it meets the main Gippsland railway.

Climbing out of Yarragon

Having to share the track with V/Line services.

VL38 runs on the up past the freight

It then heads for Melbourne, passing under some former level crossings.

VL360 leads VL356 on the up Maryvale service through Springvale station

And over others.

Completed 'Skyrail' viaducts east of Clayton

It heads through Flinders Street Station.

80 foot longer SQEF container wagons make up the bulk of the Maryvale freight

Following the banks of the Yarra River.

40 foot Qube containers in the consist of the up Maryvale freight on the Flinders Street Viaduct

Until it reaches the Qube Logistics terminal at the Port of Melbourne.

Exit end of the Westgate Ports siding, Bolte Bridge in the background

The containers are stripped from the wagons, and another batch loaded.

Reach stacker at the Westgate Ports siding

Looking up the Westgate Ports siding at Victoria Dock, along Moonee Ponds Creek

Then the train heads back east, ready to do the same thing again tomorrow.

80 foot container wagons roll through Richmond station on the down Maryvale freight

Some history

The Maryvale paper mill was established by Australian Paper Manufacturers (APM) in 1937, following a government agreement that gave the company favourable access to forests, exploiting lower-quality timber left after sawlogs had been felled.

Fire damaged trees flank the Princes Highway near Orbost

The site was chosen due to easy access to water from the Latrobe River and electricity from the Yallourn power station, with full production commencing in 1940.

The railway siding to the paper mill opened in 1937, but the operation was antiquated – APM used their own shunting tractor to deliver wagons in small groups to an exchange siding at Morwell, where it would be picked up by mainline freight trains for the journey to Melbourne.

All of this changed in 1996, when through trains between Melbourne and the paper mill commenced. Brian Carroll explains, in Toll: an illustrated history.

For some time before Toll acquired specialist paper transport company Sibcot, Mery Hunter had been talking to Australian Paper about the benefits of moving paper by train from its Maryvale Mill, in eastern Victoria, to Melbourne and beyond. Work on the idea continued and, on 12 March 1996, a complete train load of paper rolled away from Maryvale, bound for Australian and export markets. From then on, the dedicated seventeen-wagon train was scheduled to run from Maryvale to Melbourne and back on more than 300 days of the year under Toll Metro management.

For the previous fifty years, the company had used a mixture of rolling stock: prairie wagons, box cars, and open wagons. Road transport supplemented rail when required. In Melbourne, the wagons were either unloaded for local distribution, or sent on to interstate destinations. For most of them, that meant a stopover at the bogie exchange for conversion to standard gauge. The system was labour intensive and expensive.

When the Federal Government announced its rail standardisation program, there seemed to be possibilities to improve the system. Now, with a Melbourne—Adelaide standard gauge connection, wagons could go by standard gauge over the shortest practicable route from Melbourne to all mainland state capitals. The problem was that Maryvale was still on the Victorian broad gauge system.

Toll Metro worked out a system to minimise the handling of paper on its way to market. This would reduce costs and reduce transit damage. At Maryvale, this involved building a rail container loading pad near one of the existing spur lines. This enabled a 40-tonne top loading forklift to load and unload rail containers under cover from rain. The technology for the efficient movement of paper reels up to 2.5 metres high centred on sixty 12.2 metre road/rail containers. For these, Toll Metro chose curtain-sided Tautliners. Support equipment included prime movers with minimum height turntables coupled with low profile skeletal trailers.

With all that set out in a fully-developed plan, Australian Paper and Toll Metro convinced V/Line of the merits of providing a dedicated circuit train between Maryvale and Melbourne. This was readily agreed. The train comprised 24.4-metre VQDW wagons. In time, it grew to 19 wagons carrying over 800 tonnes of paper in 38 containers. Wagons headed interstate went to Dynon Road. Those for local delivery or export first went to Flinders Street Extension and later to North Dynon, where a 40-tonne forklift and ancillary equipment were installed to handle the containers. The improved rail arrangements reduced traffic on the highway between Maryvale and Melbourne. One locomotive on one train could move as much paper as fifty trucks.

The 2.5-metre-high reels of paper meant that the containers needed an external height of 3 metres. When placed on a skeletal trailer, this gave an overall height just over the 4.3-metre legal height. Toll Metro negotiated over-height permits on designated delivery routes within the Melbourne metropolitan area.

Volumes handled by the train grew steadily as Maryvale began to cater for Australian Paper’s New South Wales and New Zealand markets. Toll Metro began to send consignment documentation electronically, direct to the Dynon Rail terminal’s system.

Since then the rail service has gone from strength to strength, containerised paper products being transport both for export, and onward transit by rail to Brisbane and Perth.

Qube Logistics took over the contract from incumbent Victoria broad gauge freight operator Pacific National in June 2013, and today third party containers of sawn timber from a Latrobe Valley sawmill are also loaded at Maryvale, although this is small in volume.

Facts and figures

The Maryvale train usually runs with two 3300 HP diesel locomotives hauling 29 wagons, each loaded with two 40 foot ISO containers. This results in a train around 792 metres long, with an empty weight of 800-900 tonnes, and 2100-2300 tonnes fully loaded. Around 30,000 containers per year are transported by the train, with 20,000 to the Port for export and 10,000 for domestic consumption.

The rail service to Australian Paper is now a key part of their operation, which presents difficulties whenever it is severed – such as in 2012, and again in October 2014forty trucks needed to replace a single train.

What about the environment?

Moving freight by rail instead of road is a good thing, but what about the environment impacts of the product being moved?

The Maryvale pulp mills currently consume over 500 000 cubic metres of logs per year from state forests, which is secured under the legislated agreement and a timber sales agreement. They also consume about 130 000 cubic metres per year of offcuts from timber mills that use native forest sawlogs

Not to mention the energy used to produce it – baseload renewable energy sounds good – until you get into the detail.

Mr WELLER — What do you use for the renewable energy?
Mr McLEAN — It is a by-product of the trees primarily.
Mr WELLER — The bark?
Mr McLEAN — The liquor, as we call it, or the sap from the tree, becomes a fuel. That fuels the boilers, and the boilers generate steam to drive the paper machines. They also drive turbines for power, so we generate a lot of our own steam on-site and generate enough power for approximately 50 per cent of our requirements.
Mr KATOS — Otherwise that would have gone to landfill.
Mr McLEAN — Absolutely; that is right.

Not to mention the Energy from Waste proposal from Australian Paper.

To help manage our energy costs, Australian Paper is proposing to construct a thermal Energy from Waste (EfW) plant adjacent to our Maryvale Paper Mill site in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria.

This technology creates energy from the controlled combustion of non-hazardous waste materials that would otherwise go to landfill.

The proposed $600 million EfW plant would process up to 650,000 tonnes of residual Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) as well as Commercial and Industrial (C&I) waste.

It would allow Australian Paper to attain a sustainable, long-term and stable alternative baseload energy source to produce steam and electricity for the Maryvale Mill.

Australian Paper’s responses to concerns raised in submissions lists rail as one option to move the rubbish.

The logistics network includes three components, including: utilising the “Paper train” from Melbourne, line haul trucks from SE Melbourne transporting waste to the facility and ash to the landfills, and local Refuse Collection Vehicles collecting kerbside waste across Gippsland and transporting to the proposed EfW Facility.

But isn’t a given.

Currently there is no rail siding in SE Melbourne that could house a waste transfer station to compact waste into containers and then load onto the rail network. The existing ‘Paper train” is viewed by AP as a reliable and cost effective solution for transport to and from the Port of Melbourne. Leveraging rail is a natural opportunity for the proposed EfW facility and something Australian Paper is working towards

Sounds like a familiar story.

Footnote: more on the Maryvale mill

In 2014 Australian Paper supply chain development manager Ben McLean addressed the Inquiry into the opportunities for increasing exports of goods and services from regional Victoria, explaining the operation of the Maryvale mill:

Australian Paper is now owned by Nippon Paper, one of the Japanese paper manufacturers, a global leader in recycled papers. It is the world’s sixth largest paper manufacturing business and aims to be in the top five in the next few years.

You might be familiar with Reflex, the office paper. It is probably the most commonly known product; certainly it is a flagship product. Australian Paper also manufactures substantial quantities of packaging papers — the types of paper that would go into cardboard boxes — both recycled-based cardboard boxes and virgin fibre, which has a high humidity resistance for use in things like meat markets, removalists boxes et cetera.

We have invested in the last decade or so in a new paper machine, the M5 paper machine, which makes the Reflex paper. We upgraded our pulp mill in 2007–2008, and we currently have under construction a $90 million recycling plant for office papers. You can see there is a fairly massive capital investment required to develop the business. This enables the employment in the region of about 6000 people directly and indirectly.

We are currently recycling around about 45 000 tonnes of brown waste recycling for packaging papers. The white paper offset recycling facility will produce around 80 000 tonnes of recycled paper.

[Our products include] kraft liner board, which is the paper that goes into the cardboard boxes. Copy paper I think everyone understands. Sack and bag papers are papers that are used for sacks, like a mineral sack or a cement sack, and also could be used for foods — dog food, those sorts of things, and milk powder. The UCWF is uncoated wood-free, which is typically printing paper, the non-coated, non-glossy paper.

And their transport needs:

For our exports in particular the challenge for us is to get around 300 000 tonnes of paper from that red dot to the port. The export markets in particular are worldwide. The volume on-site is essentially 56 per cent Australian and New Zealand volumes with about 44 per cent export. A fairly substantial part of our business is export.

Our store is at the end of the rail line in Melbourne. Because we have the rail spur on site at the Maryvale Mill we do not have to go on the public roads, which means our payloads can be maximised just for the rail, which means we maximise our container payloads to the Melbourne store, and then we can get fast access to the shipping line containers in Melbourne and we can optimise the payloads of the container to get our low-freight rates to the export market.

And the challenges of exports.

From Australian Paper’s perspective exporting is something we have to do rather than something we actually desire to do. The majority of our focus is on supplying the Australian market where the revenues and profitability are obviously better, but there is a limit to that given the capacity we have at the plant.

The export challenge is that there are 37 shipping lines, 125 ports, 68 countries and over 12 000 forty-foot containers annually. We are a reasonable component of the port of Melbourne volume. The export destinations: North America, predominantly, is where the copy paper is sent, and Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America et cetera.

The challenge for us with export markets is largely one of cost. Paper is essentially a commodity product in most of these markets. You can see there, to get a feel for the economics, that the cost to take a tonne of paper from Maryvale to the wharf is around $35 a tonne, if we can pack the paper directly into the container. So if we can obtain the container from the shipping yard, bring it down on the train, pack it directly and take it straight back without having to take the paper out of the container, then it is around $35 a tonne. If we have to double handle the paper via a store, for whatever reason, it instantly goes to $52 a tonne.

Their competitive advantage.

In terms of regional Victoria’s competitive advantages, the reason why Maryvale Mill is where it is and the reason why it was built there in the first place was for trees, water and power, and the output is relatively close to the consumption base. At the time when it was built it was reasonably close to Melbourne and not far from Sydney.

For a paper mill surviving generally on forested timber, as in logged fibre, there are about four trucks going in to one truck going out, so the tree has about 25 per cent fibre in it. That is a rule of thumb you can keep in mind. It is better to be close to the fibre than it is to be close to your market, so that is why it is located where it is.

And possible growth in other freight moved by rail from Gippsland.

But the volume on rail now through Australian Paper is giving our service provider baseload, and it will now try to leverage that to try to get other customers onto the rail network. If that is successful, then that rail service provision back to us will be sustainable.

So if Qube can turn it into a sustainable business for itself and attract other customers it will not be under as much pressure to increase its costs to us. We are doing everything we can to get our business set up and operate day-to-day, month-to-month, but we are trying to help Qube leverage that infrastructure so it can actually develop the business, and in turn it will help us at the next contract review.

Footnote: high cube containers

Turns out double deck trains aren’t the only rail vehicles to have trouble with low bridges in Melbourne.


Photo by Weston Langford

The same also applies to high cube containers.

9ft 10in (3 metre) high containers are banned on the Metro Trains Melbourne Network with the exception of the Maryvale Paper Train which may operate between Melbourne Yard and Pakenham only under the following conditions:

The hours of operation are restricted between the following times:
– Sunday 19:00 and Monday 05:00.
– Monday to Thursday 21:00 and 05:00 next day.
– Friday 21:00 and 07:00 Saturday.
– Saturday 19:00 and Sunday 07:00.

The vehicles are restricted to a maximum speed of 40 km/h when operating between Caulfield and South Yarra in both directions.
The maximum height of any vehicle/container combination must not exceed 4192 mm. GPS transceivers are placed in the locomotive cabs for the purpose of speed monitoring

The 10ft 6in (3200mm) high containers are only permitted on the following tracks at Flinders Street:

  • Up and Down Sandringham lines
  • Via Platforms 8 & 9 and the Up and Down Special lines
  • Via Platforms 3 & 4 and the Up and Down Burnley Local lines

Is the ability to pass through platforms 3 & 4 linked to it being the former stomping ground of the double deck 4D suburban train?

More photos

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One Response to “Moving paper by train from Gippsland”

  1. […] 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 […]

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