Freight Train Owners and Operators
Pacific National locomotives NR64, NR91, AN9 and NR50 with an Up intermodal train on the Southern Sydney Freight Line between Cabramatta and Carramar, 19 July 2014.
During 2015–16 Australian railways moved a total of 1,347,451,000 tonnes of freight. This represents 413.5 billion NTKs (Net Tonne Kilometres) of freight. NTK is calculated by multiplying the number of tonnes by the distance the freight is moved (Trainline 5: statistical report, Australian Government: Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, Canberra, 2017, p. 5, 6.). Data for some small freight operators were not included in these figures. Railway freight services are provided by various operators throughout Australia. Most of these operators are private companies, and TasRail is the only government-owned regular freight train operator. The operators of railway freight train services in Australian states and details of each operator are listed.
Freight Train Operators in Each State
The interstate freight operators in Australia are Pacific National, Aurizon, SCT Logistics and Bowmans Rail.
New South Wales
Various companies operate railway freight services in New South Wales: Pacific National, Aurizon, Qube Logistics, Southern Shorthaul Railroad, Rail First Asset Management, Fletcher International Exports, Crawfords Freightlines, GrainCorp, Centennial Coal, Swift Transport and Freightliner. Major freight commodities transported in New South Wales include coal, grain and intermodal freight.
Pacific National, Qube Logistics, Southern Shorthaul Railroad and GrainCorp operate railway freight services in Victoria. Major freight commodities transported in Victoria include grain, other agricultural products and intermodal freight.
Aurizon, Pacific National, BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA), Rio Tinto Aluminium, Watco Australia, Linfox, Bowen Rail Company and various sugar milling companies operate railway freight services in Queensland. Major freight commodities transported include coal, intermodal freight, grains, sugar, other agricultural products and livestock. Queensland is the only state in Australia where livestock continue to be transported by rail. Sugar milling companies operate freight trains for the transportation of sugar cane to processing mills along networks owned by the mills. Around 30 million tonnes of sugar cane are transported each season. Trains are operated by Bundaberg Sugar, Isis Central Sugar Mill, Mackay Sugar, MSF Sugar, Tully Sugar and Wilmar Sugar. The combined fleets of the sugar milling companies consists of around 250 diesel-hydraulic locomotives and approximately 52,000 cane bins (sugar cane railway wagons).
Aurizon, Pacific National, CBH Group and Watco Australia operate railway freight services in the south-west of Western Australia. Four large mining companies operate railways in the Pilbara region for the transportation of iron ore from their mines to port facilities: BHP, Fortescue Metals Group, Rio Tinto and Roy Hill. Railways in the Pilbara region handled 64 per cent of the net tonne kilometres (NTKs) of Australia’s national rail freight in 2015–16.
Aurizon, Pacific National, SCT Logistics and Bowmans Rail operate railway freight services in South Australia. Major freight commodities transported in South Australia include grain and intermodal freight.
TasRail is the only operator of railway freight services in Tasmania. It operates around 130 services a week across its network.
Freight Train Operators
Aurizon is the largest railway freight operator in Australia. It transported 185 million tonnes of coal, iron ore and bulk freight in 2022–23. Major operations are coal traffic throughout Queensland and in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Other freight includes grain in Queensland, and minerals and grain in Western Australia. At 30 June 2023 Aurizon owned a fleet of 592 active locomotives and 13,348 active wagons.
Aurizon operates and manages the Central Queensland Coal Network, which is one of the world’s largest. It includes 2670 km of railway lines connecting mines to ports at Abbot Point (around 25 km north of Bowen), Hay Point (around 40 km south of Mackay) and Gladstone. Aurizon also operates coal trains from the Clarence–Moreton and Surat basins to Brisbane. Bulk freight operations include services to the Western Australian ports of Geraldton, Fremantle, Kwinana, Bunbury, Albany and Esperance, and from Mount Isa to Townsville in Queensland. Aurizon manages and operates the north–south transcontinental line from Darwin to Tarcoola, a distance of 2246 route kilometres.
BHP is a mining, metals and petroleum company. It is the largest mining company in the world. The Minerals Australia asset group of BHP has facilities in Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. Its operations include the heavy haulage railways of Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO).
BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA)
BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) is Australia’s largest coal producer, and its output represents over a quarter of Australia’s coal exports. It is half-owned by BHP and half-owned by Mitsubishi Development. BMA operates seven mines in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, and also owns and operates the coal terminal at Hay Point (around 40 km south of Mackay). BMA became a rail transport operator in 2014 for the purpose of transporting coal from its new mines at Daunia and Caval Ridge to Hay Point. It has a fleet of 13 BMACC Class electric locomotives.
Bowen Rail Company (BRC)
The Bowen Rail Company (BMA) is based in Bowen in North Queensland. It has a fleet of ten locomotives and 280 wagons. The company provides rail services for the exporting of resources, and operates on the Carmichael Rail and Aurizon networks.
Bowmans Rail is a rail operator based at Bowmans (125 km north of Adelaide), where there is an intermodal terminal. It is a regional rail freight service provider that moves containerised commodities, mostly agriculture and mining products. A railway line connects the site at Bowmans to Adelaide and Port Pirie. Current operations of Bowmans Rail are container trains from Bowmans, minerals from Kanandah (near Broken Hill in New South Wales) to Adelaide’s Outer Harbor and Port Pirie, and containerised logs between Bordertown and Pelican Point. Bowmans Rail operates over 500 train services each year, moving more than 6,000 containers.
Bundaberg Sugar operates two mills: Bingera Mill at South Kolan and Millaquin Mill at Bundaberg. During the crushing season around 15 cane trains operate 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
The CBH (Co-operative Bulk Handling) Group is a co-operative that handles, transports, markets and processes grain in Western Australia. It receives and exports approximately 90 per cent of the Western Australian grain harvest. Grain is transported to export terminals at Esperance, Albany, Kwinana and Geraldton. CBH owns a fleet of 25 locomotives and over 300 grain wagons. Train services are contracted to Watco Australia, which is also responsible for train planning and scheduling, maintenance and crew management.
Centennial Coal is an Australian mining company that provides coal for domestic and export markets. It supplies around 40% of the coal-fired electricity generating capacity in New South Wales and also exports coal through ports at Newcastle and Port Kembla. Centennial Coal currently operates five coal mines in New South Wales in the area north-west of Lithgow and around Lake Macquarie. The company owns seven CEY Class locomotives, which are operated by Southern Shorthaul Railroad.
Crawfords Freightlines operates intermodal freight trains between its base at Sandgate (near Newcastle) and Port Botany in Sydney, as well as from container terminals at Werris Creek and Goulburn. It owns two locomotives.
Fletcher International Exports
Fletcher International Exports is an Australian company that processes and exports meat products, and also has a grain handling and intermodal freight terminal at Dubbo in New South Wales. The company owns four FIE Class locomotives, which are operated by Southern Shorthaul Railroad.
Fortescue Metals Group (FMG)
Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) is an Australian company that is one of the largest iron ore producers in the world. It has extensive iron ore operations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Fortescue operates up to 14 trains a day, each carrying 32,880 tonnes of iron ore. Its rail fleet compromises around 90 locomotives, over 3000 ore wagons and various service vehicles.
Freightliner Australia operates freight services from regional New South Wales to ports at Sydney and Newcastle. Operations include the haulage of cotton from Warren and Wee Waa.
GrainCorp is a grain handling and marketing company servicing New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. It provides an integrated supply chain from farms to export terminals. GrainCorp’s network of regional storage sites has a capacity of over 20 million tonnes, and there are export terminals at Mackay, Gladstone and Brisbane in Queensland, Newcastle and Port Kembla in New South Wales, and Geelong and Portland in Victoria. Rail operations are serviced by a fleet of 48 Class locomotives.
Isis Central Sugar Mill
Isis Central Sugar Mill operates Isis Central Mill at Cordalba. The mill crushes over 1.4 million tonnes of sugar cane each season, which is transported by its network of sugar cane railways.
Linfox is Asia Pacific’s largest privately-owned logistics company, employing more than 24,000 people across 12 countries. It operates around 30 intermodal freight train services to and from the Port of Brisbane each week.
Mackay Sugar is Australia’s second-largest sugar milling company and operates four mills: Farleigh, Marian, Racecourse and Mossman. It produces an average of around 800,000 tonnes of raw sugar each year for the domestic market and for export. The company has two separate cane railway networks: the Mackay network and the Mossman network.
On the Mackay network Mackay Sugar has a fleet of around 50 locomotives and 8100 bins for transporting sugar cane. These bins have capacities of five, six and 15 tonnes. Trains can be up to 800 metres in length. On the Mossman network the company has a fleet of six locomotives and 600 bins. These bins have capacities of nine, 11 and 13 tonnes.
The Manildra Group is an agricultural production and processing company with most of its business in New South Wales. Facilities include flour mills at Manildra, Gunnedah, Bomaderry and Narrandera. Manildra operates around 40 trains each year, hauling more than 2 million tonnes of flour, wheat, grain and export containers. It owns six locomotives and more than 150 wagons. Locomotives are used for shunting, mostly at Manildra, Gunnedah and Narrandera.
Mineral Resources Limited (MRL)
Mineral Resources Limited (MRL) is a mining services and processing company based in Western Australia. MRL and its subsidiaries offer a range of mine services, including contract crushing, infrastructure provision and recovery of base metals concentrate for export. The MRL subsidiary Process Minerals International (PMI) oversees the operation of its Yilgarn rail fleet.
MSF (Maryborough Sugar Factory) Sugar operates four mills: South Johnstone Mill and Mulgrave Mill at Gordonvale, and Tableland and Maryborough Mill, which are not serviced by rail. The company is Australia’s largest sugarcane farmer, the second-largest raw sugar exporter and the third-largest sugar miller.
National Railway Equipment Company
The National Railway Equipment Company is a provider of new and re-manufactured locomotives, locomotive products and wheel services, with its headquarters in Mount Vernon, Illinois, United States. It owns two 1200 Class locomotives that are based in New South Wales.
Pacific National (PN)
Pacific National is one of the largest rail freight operators in Australia, with trains operating in all mainland states and territories. Freight traffic includes coal, grain and intermodal freight. Its fleet consists of over 600 locomotives and around 13,000 wagons. Two broad business areas of Pacific National are national intermodal freight haulage and bulk haulage. National intermodal freight haulage includes interstate containerised freight services, interstate steel freight services, regional freight rail services in Queensland, and the provision of locomotives for passenger trains. Pacific National transports approximately 70 per cent of the long-haul intermodal freight in Australia.
Bulk haulage includes coal, grain, minerals, concentrates and construction materials. Pacific National is the second-largest coal rail haulage provider in Australia, with over 41 per cent of export coal haulage. In the 2014–15 year Pacific National transported around 72 per cent of the coal haulage market in New South Wales and around 26 per cent in Queensland. In New South Wales coal trains operate from mines in the Hunter Valley, Illawarra, Lithgow, Mudgee and Gunnedah regions, with coal for export being hauled to the ports of Newcastle and Port Kembla. Coal is also transported to power stations and steelworks. In Queensland, Pacific National operates from mines in the Bowen Basin through the Goonyella, Blackwater and Newlands rail systems. Additionally, Pacific National carries around 75 per cent of grain hauled by rail in the eastern states of Australia.
Process Minerals International (PMI)
Process Minerals International (PMI) is a subsidiary of Mineral Resources Limited (MRL) in Western Australia, with responsibility for managing mine to port logistics. Operations include overseeing the operation of the MRL rail fleet, which comprises six locomotives and 382 purpose-built iron ore wagons, as well as co-ordination of heavy haulage road transport operations. The six locomotives are MRL Class units used to haul iron ore from mine to port in Western Australia.
Qube Logistics is an integrated import and export logistics provider. It operates rail freight services in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Much of its traffic involves the transport of intermodal containers. Qube owns a fleet of around 50 locomotives.
Rail First Asset Management
Rail First Asset Management leases locomotives and rolling stock to railway operators throughout Australia. It has a fleet of around 90 locomotives, most of which are based in New South Wales, but it also leases locomotives in other states. Most of the Rail First Asset Management locomotive fleet is maintained at Goulburn Railway Workshops.
Rio Tinto Aluminium
Rio Tinto Aluminium operates large scale bauxite mines, alumina refineries and aluminium smelters. The Weipa bauxite mine on Cape York Peninsula in Queensland produces 26 million tonnes of bauxite annually. A standard gauge railway transports ore from the mine at Andoom to the port facility at Lorim Point.
Rio Tinto Iron Ore
The Rio Tinto Iron Ore railway system in the Pilbara region of Western Australia is the largest privately-owned and operated railway system in Australia. Its fleet comprises around 200 locomotives and 11,500 wagons. Trains generally operate with three locomotives hauling either 167 or 236 ore wagons.
Roy Hill operates a 344 km standard gauge, single track, heavy haul railway in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Its purpose is to transport 55 million tonnes per annum of iron ore from the Roy Hill Mine to the dedicated port facility at Boodarie, south of Port Hedland. Roy Hill loaded its first shipment of ore for export in December 2015. Five ore trains operate from the mine each day, each train being hauled by three diesel-electric locomotives in distributed power mode with one unit in the middle of the train. Trains are more than 2.7 km in length and consist of 232 ore wagons, conveying a total of 31,132 tonnes of ore. For the first 30 kilometres from the mine each train is assisted by bank locomotives at the rear of the train. Trains are loaded at the Roy Hill Mine using a loading system that is controlled from the Remote Operations Centre (ROC) in Perth. The Roy Hill rolling stock fleet consists of 1196 wagons and a number of service vehicles.
Southern Shorthaul Railroad
Southern Shorthaul Railroad (SSR) operates rail freight services in New South Wales and Victoria, and leases locomotives for other services, such as infrastructure work trains. The operations of SSR include transporting coal for export from mines to ports at Newcastle and Port Kembla, coal to Eraring Power Station, grain haulage, intermodal freight services through Cooks River and Port Botany in Sydney, testing of new locomotives and rolling stock transfers. SSR owns a fleet of around 50 locomotives of a range of different classes, although some of these are stored. SSR subsidiary Consolidated Rail Leasing (CRL) leases locomotives and rolling stock.
SCT (Specialised Container Transport) Logistics is an Australian interstate rail and road transport company. Its railway operations include intermodal services and general freight. SCT Logistics has a fleet of around 70 locomotives of a range of classes. Rolling stock includes well wagons, flat wagons and general purpose vans.
Swift Transport operates a freight shuttle between Enfield and Port Botany. The company owns two G Class locomotives.
TasRail is the Tasmanian Government-owned operator of rail freight services in Tasmania. Freight carried includes logs, paper, containerised freight, cement, coal, mineral concentrates and bauxite. The TasRail fleet includes over 20 operational locomotives and over 300 wagons. It also owns a range of infrastructure, including track and freight terminals.
Tully Sugar operates Tully Mill, and also owns and operates various sugar cane farms. The company has a fleet of 15 locomotives, including six former Queensland Railways DH Class units that have been re-gauged to operate on 610 mm gauge tracks. During the crushing season there are nine locomotives operating during the day, and from five to seven at night. Most of the company’s bins have a capacity of four tonnes and these are usually paired, being only separated for maintenance work. A number of ten-tonne bins are also being introduced.
Watco Australia operates grain freight services on behalf of CBH in Western Australia. In addition to operating grain trains, Watco Australia is responsible for train planning and scheduling, maintenance and crew management. It transports an average of 10–12 million tonnes of grain annually from 192 locations to CBH’s four export terminals. Watco also operates grain trains for GrainCorp in Queensland.
Western Australia Iron Ore
Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) is part of BHP’s Minerals Australia asset group. Its major iron ore operations are in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Infrastructure includes five operational mines, over 1000 kilometres of railway line and two separate port facilities. Iron ore is transported along the Newman–Port Hedland railway line from four mine hubs to port facilities in Port Hedland. The BHP iron ore railway network is one of the most productive heavy haulage railways in the world. Its fleet includes 180 locomotives.
Whitehaven Coal is a coal producer in the Gunnedah Basin of New South Wales. It owns mines at Maules Creek, Werris Creek, Tarrawonga, Rocglen and Narrabri, and also owns a coal handling and processing plant at Gunnedah. Coal from these mines is transported to the Port of Newcastle for shipping overseas. Whitehaven Coal owns three WH Class locomotives.
Wilmar Sugar operates eight mills: Victoria Mill at Ingham, Macknade Mill, Invicta Mill at Giru, Kalamia Mill at Ayr, Pioneer Mill at Brandon, Plane Creek Mill at Sarina, Proserpine Mill, and Inkerman Mill at Home Hill. These mills manufacture over half of Australia’s raw sugar. The company has a fleet of more than 75 locomotives and 16,000 sugar cane bins. These bins range in capacity from four tonnes to ten tonnes.