What is Rail Freight?

Nov 2, 2022

When you imagine freight, what first comes to mind? You might be imagining a large ship complete with containers of all sizes and shapes, however, railway freight specifically is very different. 

Rail freight Australia covers goods transported by train, such as chemicals, construction material, agriculture, coal, oil, wind turbines, and a range of other important cargo. Although this process is behind the scenes for most, it is key to economic success for thousands of businesses around the country.

What is rail freight and its history in Australia?

Coastal transport and horses pulling carts were the traditions for transporting important goods - think of merchants selling important items on the road - but this has changed dramatically over the last 150 years. 

A steam-powered railway opened in Melbourne in 1854 from Melbourne to Port Melbourne by Melbourne Hobson’s Bail Railway Company, but how has this changed the way freight is today? 

Australia's first railway was opened by the Australian Agricultural Company in 1831 in Newcastle, New South Wales, and was privately owned by a coal mine. 

Rail freight lines were very spread out, to begin with, but most states became linked after the Federation in 1901. A lot of developments took place, such as 

Combining these networks nationally took time and weren’t finalised until after 1970 when all passengers could travel without needing to change trains multiple times to reach their destination. Rail freight has definitely come a long way!

How does rail freight work in Australia?

Rail freight operators and rail freight companies have a major role to play, but it isn’t a straightforward process. With over 4 billion tonnes of goods moved and delivered each year in Australia, this field of logistics is vital to many companies and their financial stability. Without transport, how will they achieve their goals?

Why is rail freight important?

What is rail freight? Freight isn’t something you think about every day, but it’s important in the bigger picture. Not only is rail freight better for the environment and prevents congestion on the roads, but it is safe and cheaper than other methods. 

Rail freight Australia transportation benefits large-scale businesses. Without it, there wouldn’t be any petrol to fill your car, construction materials for home-building projects, medicine for medical professionals, and food in the supermarket. Lacking this transport system would heavily impact our food supply across the country!

What do rail freights carry in Australia?

Who needs freight carried? Rail freight Australia industries that have a common interest in rail freights include mining, grain-growing, black coal mining, steel manufacturing, construction, and wholesale trade. Other key selling industries can be railway repair or equipment, heavy-industry items, or even large vehicle rental industries.

Rail freight lines Australia carry products on board such as coal, iron ore, shipping containers, grains, canola, cotton, waste, and bulk liquids such as flammable chemicals. To be able to carry these items, there are also a variety of rail freight containers that can assist transport. For example, high container cubes help keep larger goods safe and can hold more cargo, such as heavy machinery.

What are the benefits of rail freights?

Rail freight Australia is eco-friendly because it uses electricity and a low amount of carbon dioxide to run. Freight trains can hold together over 100 wagons, so you can imagine the amount of storage that is possible. 

Low-cost long-distance trips, minimal traffic, and unpredictable weather aren’t an issue either. Businesses of all types can benefit.

What are the different types of rail freight Australia?

  • Unit trains. This type of rail freight manages a single cargo, such as oil, grain, or coal. This operates continuously for a customer who needs this regularly.
  • Triple-decker car carriers. These can carry three layers of freight, which usually consist of cars.
  • Ore cars, also known as hopper cars. They can be uncovered or uncovered for ore, dirt, or grain, or a covered hopper or open-top hopper for coal and gravel. The last type of hopper includes tank cars for bulky liquids such as chemicals or corn syrup.
  • Carload freight. These freight trains carry shipping containers or road trailers, which has a different process.
  • Intermodel freight. These freight trains operate divided but have the same destination. This could be the case for bulk orders and for very large companies.

What are the rail traffic services in Victoria?

Standard gauge services

Standard gauge traffic is 5 feet and 6 inches smaller than broad gauge services, but it is an effective service that can carry heavy loads, such as shipping containers across to Sydney or Adelaide.

Steel standard gauge services operate from South Australia to New South Wales, across to the Melbourne Steel Terminal. Likewise, grain trains transport through Melbourne.

Broad gauge services

This type of rail freight service contains much larger goods than standard services. 

  • Steel products are transported from Long Island to Melbourne, and paper products are transported by the Maryvale paper train from Dynon.
  • Grain trains have a transport line from Kensington to Sunshine, and an Apex train with quarry products travels from Kilmore East to Westall and Geelong.
  • A Warrnambool food train travels from Denington to the Port of Melbourne. 
  • Likewise, there’s a Mildura Fruit Flyer train from Merbein to the Port of Melbourne that includes agricultural products, and Tocumwal goods train from Dynon.

What rail freight lines are in Melbourne?

If you’re wondering ‘what is rail freight’, in terms of how goods are moved around, the lines of transport in Melbourne are vital to successful transportation. Rail terminals are within Port Melbourne, Dynon, and the outer suburbs.

  • The North East line. Linking from Melbourne to Albury, New South Wales, this freight line networks across Australia. 
  • The South Kensington to West Footscray line. This was built as a double track and duel gauge system and connects to the Port of Melbourne.
  • Western Standard gauge line. This line links Melbourne to Adelaide, running across to Newport to Sunshine, from Geelong to North Shore, to Ballarat, and then to Ararat, bridging the interstate.
  • The Albion to Jacana line, which is perfect for avoiding any busy Broadmeadows traffic along the way of transport. This double-steeled track was built to be able to cross Moone Ponds Creek and Maribyrnong River.

How is rail freight different from passenger transportation?

Unlike us as humans, rail freight doesn’t move. With rail freight Australia, there is a distinct difference between ordinary transportation trains and trains that can carry goods. 

Railway trains have a transfer mechanism in order to be connected to other carriages, whereas trains that transport humans, two trains can connect at a station. 

Management is also different and complex, depending on the goods being carried. In comparison to road freight, rail freight Australia comes with a transaction cost at each point of drop-off.

What is truck freight?

Do you ever drive along a highway and see many trucks pass you by on a busy day? Truck freight involves large, specialised trucks that transport many goods from one place to another, just like rail freight Australia. 

The main difference is that their engine is at the front, and their freight is stored in a trailer at the back. Types of trucks include common semi-trailers - which carry raw materials and are suited to long distances - a step deck, dry vans, a reefer, box trucks, and tankers.

Is rail freight cheaper than truck freight?

Without a rail freight strategy, it would make it extremely difficult for most businesses or workers to acquire the materials they need across interstate and international borders. 

Although rail freight Australia is more expensive than the ocean, truck, or air freight transportation, it is a lot faster and benefits higher-value products such as electronics, vehicles, urgent promotional equipment, or computer equipment.

As for truck transportation by road, it is more flexible since rail freight has a limited number of ports it can reach. Trucks can reach areas that trains cannot.

How is rail freight maintained?

  • Ballast cleaners are responsible for cleaning the railway track of any impurities. If the track is clean, this allows the railway system to function without issues.
  • Rail grinders are maintenance vehicles used to restore tracks and extend the lifespan of the rails. This can potentially prevent a series of rotting tracks and hence contribute to the safety of transport.
  • Instead of cleaning tracks, undercutters retrieve any stone on the tracks to replace it with new stones. 
  • Tampers are machines that pack underneath the track so it is more durable for rail freight. This keeps the railway freight going stable.

What are the costs associated with rail freight in Australia?

According to Freight Australia and supply chain data, the average costs are $500-600 for a medium trip and up to $1500 for a longer trip. An Australian freight rail map is also used to view and track shipments and their destinations. This offers many benefits to freight strategy.

Choosing freight insurance to cover your goods and services is also an option. You now know what rail freight is, but for a more precise and personalised price range for your company, you can contact us for a rail freight quote today.

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Robert Lynch

Founder of Australia’s largest outside hire company Couriers & Freight, Robert Lynch is a seasoned business leader in the shipping industry with over 20 years of experience. His expertise spans from outside hire, taxi truck, and last-mile services to freight management, freight forwarding and warehousing. 

Robert has also incorporated technology into his business through custom software to enhance growth and efficiency. Robert is a valuable resource for business owners looking to improve their logistics operations.

Connect with Robert Lynch on LinkedIn.

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