Grain on the fast track`

by Suzi Fraser Dominy
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Grain storage and handling company AusBulk has 113 elevator sites located around the state of South Australia. It receives about 90% of grain at inland sites and subsequently transports it to ports for export. A little over half of these country silos are on rail with a transport task of about four million tonnes in an average year.

AusBulk’s largest sites are each equipped with the traditional over-rail storage bins for high-speed loading, which typically cost A$3 to A$4 million (U.S.$2.3 to U.S.$3 million). The majority of country sites however have loading capacities between 150 to 200 tonnes per hour. In the past this deficiency in loading rates was partially mitigated by splitting trains and loading wagons (railcars) at a number of sites simultaneously and then reassembling them, as it was uneconomical to build traditional rapid rail loaders at all rail-based sites.

AusBulk recognized that a rapid rail loading device that could be shared between sites could have a marked impact on freight rates, as rail is a highly capital intensive business with costs reflecting the utilization of rolling stock. Improving the efficiency of the rolling stock by improving loading speeds and hence loading times therefore could be expected to deliver lower freight charges.


To address this need, AusBulk’s executive manager of Supply Chain Strategy, John Hill, came up with the concept

of fast rail loaders mounted on semi-trailers that can be moved around the countryside to service specially modified concrete silos.

"These units dramatically boost loading rates, moving grain at up to 1,000 tonnes an hour, allowing a full train of 50 wagons to be filled in about a quarter of the usual time, offering considerable freight savings," he explained.

Minor modifications made to concrete grain silos enable the mobile units to lock on to storage cells. Grain is then gravity-fed onto a semi-trailer mounted, diesel-hydraulic driven conveyor belt that delivers the grain into railway wagons.

Traditionally fast rail loading has required the construction of special over-rail mounted bins that cost several million dollars to construct.

"The development of the AusRailLoader means that AusBulk can now achieve similar efficiency rates to the more expensive installations at about 2% of the capital cost," Hill said. He added that South Australian conceived, designed and constructed loaders were a major breakthrough not only for AusBulk, but also potentially for bulk handlers wherever there were quality concrete cells.

"Basically AusBulk can now provide rapid rail loading facilities at sixty sites at a comparable cost to installing permanent facilities at only two sites," Hill said. "The AusRailLoader allows trains to be loaded faster, improving train cycling times and allowing rolling stock to be used more efficiently. Moreover in most cases it will allow trains to be loaded without breaking them up. This not only saves time but also improves safety, which is also a major priority within AusBulk."

He added that the AusRailLoaders would also provide major community benefits, as they would improve the viability of South Australia’s grain-only railway lines and shift more grain freight to rail, reducing the number of trucks causing wear and tear on country roads.

"It will improve the viability of grain-only railway lines in our state, deliver better freight rates on short lines and, importantly, reduce ex-farm costs for growers," he said.

The AusRailLoader is receiving close attention outside the company and has already won two major awards. Rabobank and the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (AIAST) honored the new loader with its Technology and Innovation Award, and AusBulk also won the National Achievement of the Year Award from the Australian branch of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport for the AusRailLoader’s potential to improve the viability of Australia’s regional rail network.

For more information, contact Anita Poddar at