Fremantle container merges rail and road

By: Steve Skinner


One of Australia’s oldest trucking families is now also into rail freight in a big way, out of a port which leads the nation in moving containers by train

Fremantle container merges rail and road
The Stevenson family also owns rail operator Intermodal.

 

The modern mantra seems to be all about trucks and trains working together.

That’s the goal at the port of Fremantle in Western Australia, and at the centre of it is one of the West’s best-known names in transport.

George Stevenson set up a wharf cartage business at Fremantle in the 1930s with a single American "Fisher" truck running on solid tyres.

Today, Stevenson Logistics is still based at the port and is chaired by George’s grandson Jim, whose brother and sister also work in the business.

The Stevenson family also owns rail operator 'Intermodal', which runs trains between the port and Forrestfield, near Perth Airport to the north-west.

Forrestfield, with neighbouring Kewdale, Hazelmere and Welshpool, forms part of Perth’s biggest transport and logistics hub, which seems to be growing rapidly.

There are some massive depots and distribution centres out there, run by the likes of Linfox, Coles, Woolworths and Bunnings.

Intermodal has some big names in transport amongst its 20-odd customers, including Toll, Linfox and K&S.

On the import side of things – with Toll as the biggest customer – containers are railed from the port to Forrestfield, then picked up by trucks for local storage and distribution.

Freight could be coming from overseas, or from the east coast of Australia ­– for example beer and steel.

Intermodal’s biggest export customer, and its first client back in 2007, is giant WA grain exporter CBH.

CBH rails bulk grain to Intermodal’s terminal at Forrestfield, where it is transferred to containers and sent to the port.

CBH also has a massive bulk export grain loader down the coast at Kwinana, but apparently bulk can’t keep up with demand, is slower, and there are niche markets that don’t want whole shiploads of grain anyway.

So with CBH as a customer, container trains from Forrestfield to Fremantle are usually full. But there is excess capacity on the return, import trip.

So Intermodal is appealing to east coast consignors, who are currently benefiting from lower coastal shipping costs, to use its service.

It’s also trying to get the message out to all transport companies in the Forrestfield/Welshpool/Kewdale/Hazelmere hub area.

"It makes sense for a lot of the transport companies to use the train, but some of them don’t quite see that," says Darrin Smith, general manager of Intermodal, and also the general manager of transport at Stevensons.

"The big ones seem to, but the little ones are a little bit harder to convince. I think they are just set in their ways."

 

MAJOR MILESTONE

In June this year Intermodal celebrated carting half a million TEU’s since it began operating the service in 2007. A TEU is a "twenty foot equivalent unit".

The Intermodal trains each currently carry 90 TEUs out of the port. That compares with an average of 1.3 TEUs per truck.

Monday to Friday there are two trains a day and sometimes more, and two trains over a weekend.

The WA Government – which contracts Intermodal to manage the North Quay Rail Terminal at Fremantle, and subsidises the port shuttle – estimates that the trains take the place of about 100,000 truck trips per year.

Fremantle was the most successful port in moving containers by rail according to the most recent "Waterline" official statistics, released in May.

Intermodal says the current rate is running at about 15 per cent. The Government’s target is 30 per cent.

For much more on Intermodal and its sister trucking company, Stevenson Logistics, check out the December issue of Owner//Driver.

 

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