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, with 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. 😉

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

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?

Photos from ten years ago: September 2009

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is September 2009.

Around Geelong

We start down in the Geelong suburb of Waurn Ponds.

End of the Ring Road

Which a decade ago was the southern terminus of the Geelong Ring Road.

End of the Ring Road

But work was underway to extend the freeway over the Waurn Ponds Creek valley.

New de-facto freeway

And up the hill via Anglesea Road.

Pigdons Road

The nearby streets had bus stops to nowhere.

One side of the street has buses to nowhere, the other side is a cover up

With new houses stretching as far as the railway line.

V/Line's current operations summed in one photo?

Back then only thrice-daily trains to Warrnambool used this line.

Down Warrnambool heads towards the cement works

But a decade later it is now the site of Waurn Ponds station, terminus of the majority of V/Line services from Melbourne.

Lone tree left beside the line at the summit at Duneed

The Geelong Football Club made it into the 2009 AFL Grand Final, so V/Line ran special trains from Geelong to the MCG to carry the thousands of fans.

P18 waits at Marshall on a football special

Cats fans wait for a delayed train at South Geelong

With a special ‘Geelong Cats’ headboard decorating the front of one train.

The headboard on P13 was reused from last year - when they had one on each end

More construction

The new concourse at North Melbourne station opened in September 2009.

'Interchanging? Now you can go both ways'

With Connex staff outnumbering the passengers on the first day of operations.

Connex staff outnumber the passengers

But for the first few weeks passengers still used the old northern entrance, as work on the new station building was still underway.

New concourse open for interchange, station building still being worked on

At Laverton station, the third platform was now starting to look real.

New up platform, note the face moves outwards towards the tracks about 30 metres in

And the lift shafts for the new footbridge towering above the existing footbridge.

North-eastern view of the new lift wells

The new footbridge at Footscray was also rising at a rapid pace.

New and old footbridges

Multiple sections of bridge were ready to be lifted into place.

A second much longer piece of footbridge awaiting final placement

With others awaiting ramps and stairs to be added.

Cleared site at the west end

After the turning of the first sod for the Regional Rail Link project in August 2009, work at Southern Cross Station ramped up. The pile driver continued work on the future platform 15 and 16.

Pile driver at work on the future platform 15/16

And the trackbed north of Latrobe Street was cleared to make room for the new Regional Rail Link tracks.

Trackbed partially cleared north of Latrobe Street for the new Regional Rail Link tracks

And some trains

The first of Melbourne’s ‘interim’ order of X’Trapolis trains had arrived at the Newport Workshops in September 2009.

First of the new order of X'Trapolis, at the Newport Garden Platform with no livery

A decade later we’re still ordering more of the aging design, but with no commitment to updating it, Alstom’s Ballarat plant may close down.

A much older train was the Steamrail Victoria special I followed through the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

K153 gets into the climb upgrade into Heatherdale

A decade later, this station at Heatherdale no longer exists – replaced by a rail-under grade separation in 2017.

Running through Heatherdale station

Neither does the station at Mitcham – replaced in 2014.

Crossing an X'Trapolis on a citybound service at Mitcham

Or the rickety footbridge at Ringwood – replaced in 2015.

K153 arrives into the platform at Ringwood to pick up the on-train crew

Another steam train was this Steamrail Victoria special for Ballarat.

On arrival at Ballarat station, VLocity in platform 1

I also captured it at North Geelong C.

R761 rounds the curve into North Geelong C

Where the century-old semaphore signals have only just been replaced.

I also followed the transfer of a V/Line power van from Melbourne to the Ballarat Workshops for refurbishment.

Climbing up the Cowies Creek valley

And the return working on a refurbished classmate.

Running through the station at Lal Lal

Both vans are used by V/Line on their frequently failing V/Line Albury service.

And finally we end on the derailment of a V/Line train at Stonyford on the Warrnambool line.

View from the west

On the evening of Saturday 12 September 2009 the train collided with trees lying across the track, felled by strong winds.

Overview of the site

Which resulted in the derailment of the locomotives and four of the five passenger cars.

N452 side on, gravel dumped to provide access

But the presence of a second locomotive on the train may have reduced the impact of the crash – there were only minor injuries to both locomotive drivers and one passenger.

As a result of the crash V/Line has taken a much more aggressive attitude to trees near railway lines.


Here you can find the rest of my ‘photos from ten years ago‘ series.

Missed opportunities and Melbourne’s new hybrid buses

Back in April 2019 Daniel Andrews and the Minister for Public Transport were shouting ‘Melbourne first hybrid buses’ from the rooftops. But the reality is different – they’re not Melbourne’s first hybrid buses, we’re still buying hundreds of conventional diesel buses, and technology has already overtaken us.

CDC Melbourne photo

Some background

Here is the media release from the Minister for Public Transport

First New Hybrid Bus Ready To Hit Melbourne Roads

5 April 2019

The first of 50 new Hybrid technology buses for Melbourne’s bus network will take its first passengers next week, thanks to the Andrews Labor Government.

The new Victorian-built buses will be progressively rolled out across the next three years and will operate across bus routes in Wyndham, Oakleigh and Sunshine.

The buses will reduce fuel consumption and the impact on the environment, while improving passenger experience by delivering a quieter and smoother ride.

The Labor Government’s order for 50 new Hybrid buses into the CDC Victoria bus fleet is the single biggest order of hybrid buses in Australia.

The body construction and fit out for the new buses is being carried out in Dandenong by Volgren, supporting Victorian jobs and backing the local automotive industry to develop new capability and innovation.

All 50 buses will feature low floor layouts and are Euro 6 emission standard, the highest and cleanest level for commercial vehicles worldwide.

Hybrid technology uses the electric battery when idling and travelling under 20 km/h. The bus noise is significantly reduced when idling at stops and departing from stops, while trials in Victoria found Hybrid buses used 30 per cent less fuel.

30 Hybrid buses will be phased in over the next 12 months, with all 50 buses to be in service on CDC routes in Wyndham, Oakleigh and Sunshine by 2022.

With the hybrid buses now appearing across CDC Melbourne routes.

CDC Melbourne hybrid bus #152 BS05FJ on route 605 at Flagstaff station

Not the first hybrid

Hybrid buses were first trialled in Melbourne a decade ago.

Melbourne to host Australia’s first hybrid bus trial

June 28, 2009

Hybrid buses are set to hit Melbourne’s roads in an Australia-first trial aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by a fifth compared with conventional buses.

Two hybrid-electric buses will go into service on two suburban routes in the $500,000 joint Victorian and federal government trial.

The trial will assess the viability of hybrid buses in reducing the carbon emissions of public transport.

If successful, the cleaner buses could be rolled out across the network.

“We believe the hybrid-electric bus trial will show how improvements in transport technology can deliver air quality improvements and reduce our carbon emissions,” Victorian Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings said.

“It is estimated this hybrid-electric technology will provide a saving of around 20 per cent on fuel and greenhouse gas emissions compared to a conventional diesel bus.”

Grenda Corporation will trial a hybrid bus on its 900 route from Stud Park to Caulfield, in Melbourne’s southeast.

A second bus will be put in service on Ventura Buses’ 250 route from bayside Garden City to La Trobe University in the northern suburbs.

Two different technology platforms were used in the 2009 trial, with the Grenda bus still in service today, but the Ventura bus was put into storage following mechanical difficulties.

So why weren’t more hybrid buses ordered following the trial a decade ago?

Not even the first ‘real’ order

Latrobe Valley Bus Lines launched their Australia first fleet of hybrid buses back in August 2018.

Volgren, Volvo and Latrobe Valley Bus Lines unite in hybrid low-floor Aussie first

16 August 2018

The first of eight new Volgren-bodied Volvo hybrid chassis buses for Latrobe Valley Bus Lines (LVBL) – and the first full service hybrid in Australia – is being launched in Moe, Victoria, offering “up to a 40 per cent fuel saving” and cleaner Euro 6 emissions standards.

Dandenong-based bus body-building company Volgren is building the new Volvo Euro 6 buses on a hybrid chassis imported from Volvo in Sweden.

Volgren – now the first Australian manufacturer in the country to successfully deliver a bus body on the new Euro 6 Volvo B5LH hybrid – says it worked closely with the Volvo development team in Sweden, sharing concepts and refining the design of both the body and chassis, ensuring each stage was validated and complied with Australian Design Rules.

The completed prototype breaks new ground in bus body design and manufacturing assembly processes, says Michael Kearney, Volgren’s Product Engineering manager.

“The design and construction of the Euro 6 hybrid bus is quite different [to a traditional bus], with high voltage battery packs, radiator, air compressor and associated equipment all mounted in the roof,” Kearney explained.

With the majority of this hybrid’s components in the roof, those responsible for engineering, manufacturing and production had to rethink the assembly line. In fact, Kearney says, innovative changes were developed to accommodate the new build process to enable the Euro 6 hybrid to fit within the factory processes normally dedicated to the assembly of diesel buses.

So beaten to the punch there.

More diesel buses

At the same time as the State Government was boasting of 50 new hybrid buses, they announced an order of 100 brand new exhaust belching diesel buses!

Transdev bus #162 BS03LV at William and Lonsdale Street

From their media release:

Renewing Melbourne’s Biggest Bus Fleet

15 December 2018

The Andrews Labor Government will buy 100 new buses to support Melbourne’s public transport network, giving passengers across the city better buses to get wherever they need to go.

Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne today announced the Labor Government will invest $16 million over the next two years to replace and modernise the ageing state-owned bus fleet used on routes operated by Transdev Melbourne.

The new bus order will improve reliability and comfort for passengers, with Transdev exploring passenger-focused improvements including onboard Wi-Fi, mobile phone charging and improved passenger displays.

Many of the buses operated by Transdev are older than the industry average and are susceptible to reliability issues, particularly during hot weather.

The new buses will be built in line with the Government’s Local Jobs First policy, meaning they will be made with 60 per cent local content and create more than 20 new jobs for locals in Dandenong, Truganina and other potential locations.

I wrote about Transdev’s fleet maintenance issues last year, so the new buses are much needed.

Transdev bus #1132 BS05AH heads west on route 232 at Collins and Spencer Street

Due to the size of the order, it was split between two bus builders.

Ballarat automotive manufacturer OzPress Industries has partnered with South East Asia’s largest bus body builder Gemilang, to deliver 50 new buses for Victorian passengers.

The remaining 50 buses are being built at Volgren’s Dandenong factory, providing further Victorian employment opportunities connected to the upgrade of Melbourne’s bus fleet.

So why are the new buses for Transdev not hybrids? Apparently cost is the reason – the government is desperate for new buses, and isn’t willing to prise open their chequebook to help the environment.

And behind the times in technology

Electric buses are now the future of public transport, with the Chinese city of Shenzhen hitting the worldwide news in 2018 when they moved to a 100% electric bus fleet.

From The Guardian:

Shenzhen’s silent revolution: world’s first fully electric bus fleet quietens Chinese megacity

12 December 2018

Shenzhen now has 16,000 electric buses in total and is noticeably quieter for it.

The benefits from the switch from diesel buses to electric are not confined to less noise pollution: this fast-growing megacity of 12 million is also expected to achieve an estimated reduction in CO2 emissions of 48% and cuts in pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, non-methane hydrocarbons and particulate matter. Shenzhen Bus Group estimates it has been able to conserve 160,000 tonnes of coal per year and reduce annual CO2 emissions by 440,000 tonnes. Its fuel bill has halved.

The main roadblock – cost:

China’s drive to reduce the choking smog that envelops many of its major cities has propelled a huge investment in electric transport. Although it remains expensive for cities to introduce electric buses – one bus costs around 1.8 million yuan (£208,000) – Shenzhen was able to go all-electric thanks to generous subsidies from both central and local government.

Availability of changing stations:

To keep Shenzhen’s electric vehicle fleet running, the city has built around 40,000 charging piles. Shenzhen Bus Company has 180 depots with their own charging facilities installed. One of its major depots in Futian can accommodate around 20 buses at the same time. “Most of the buses we charge overnight for two hours and then they can run their entire service, as the range of the bus is 200km per charge,” says Ma.

And geography.

Shenzhen is fairly flat, but the hills of nearby Hong Kong have proven too much in trials of electric buses. Other cities in northern China have struggled with battery power in the extreme cold of winter.

But availability of ‘clean’ electricity doesn’t need to be – Victoria built a $198 million solar farm at Numurkah to power our tram fleet, so we could do the same to power electric buses.

So why does it matter?

Once an operator buys a new bus, they’ve committed to using it around Melbourne for the next 20+ years.

Back in the late-1990s some bus operators delayed the introduction of ‘new fangled’ low floor buses to their fleets. Twenty years on, we’re still feeling the impact of this decision, as passengers in wheelchairs get left behind whenever an inaccessible high floor bus shows up.

CDC Melbourne high floor #50 4929AO heads for the depot from Sunshine station

Our tardiness introducing clean buses will have the same impact on Melbourne of the 2040s – today’s ‘new’ diesel buses will be even more polluting as they age.


Australian bus body manufacturer Volgren has their fingers in many pies – they’re building the 50 hybrid buses for CDC Melbourne, 50 diesel buses for Transdev, and now their first electric bus.

Australian bus builder Volgren to produce its first all-electric vehicle

May 14, 2019

Australian bus body manufacturer Volgren has commenced production of its first ever electric bus, as part of what the company hopes is a larger transition to zero-emissions transport.

The milestone is the culmination of a five-year development period for Volgren, which has sought to be pro-active in shifting to all electric buses, while wanting to ensure passengers enjoy a reliable service.

Volgren says it is Australia’s largest producer of bus bodies and has previously partnered with major chassis manufacturers including MAN, Volvo and Scania.

“We’ve known for some time that the bus industry was about to go through its biggest transformation in three or four decades. And we wanted to approach this shift with the best information at our disposal.” Volgren business development manager Jon Tozer said in a statement.

“We wanted to understand the products, the technologies and the solutions available in the market before beginning our work in earnest,”

Volgren will complete its first prototype electric bus in June, with an operating range of 250km. The prototype will be produced at Volgren’s Australian headquarters in Dandenong in Victoria.

The bus will be equipped with 324kWh of battery storage, that can be charged in four to five hours between routes upon returning to its depot.

Due to the falling cost of battery technologies, Volgren believes the bus market is on the cusp of being cost competitive with existing diesel fuelled options.

While all electric buses still have higher up-front purchase costs, significantly lower operating costs, including reduced fuel costs, mean that electric buses will soon be cheaper over the full life of the vehicle, if not already.

“When you take into account the significant operation saving in maintenance and energy costs per kilometre, as well as the significant fall in the cost and increase in energy density of batteries over the last few years, we’re nearing the point where total cost of ownership will soon be the same as it is for a diesel, if it isn’t already.” Tozer said.

I wonder who will be the first Victorian bus operator to take up the opportunity?