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Hopetoun-Hamilton mineral sand trains - 2011 to 2017

Article Category  Western Victorian Railfan Guide > Articles
Date Published  Friday 5th November 2021

Hopetoun-Hamilton mineral sand trains - 2011 to 2017

The last of Iluka’s mineral sands trains operated between Hopetoun to Hamilton on this day in 2017 after six years

Over the last forty years, this service has been a rare example of non-grain intra-state revenue traffic on the western Victorian railway network. It formed the second leg of the transport chain between the mineral sand mines east of Ouyen and Iluka’s processing plant south of Hamilton after road transport was used between the mine and Hopetoun.

Proposed as an alternative to the exclusive use of road transport, the rail transport of this product was first tested in November 2003 when Freight Australia operated a test train consisting of grain hoppers that were loaded with sands by a front-end loader at Hopetoun.

In 2011, rail operator El Zorro was awarded the contract to haul this service, which was in addition to another service they operated for Iluka, which involved the transport of containerised processed mineral sand from Hamilton to the Port of Melbourne.

In June, El Zorro operated a trial train, which derailed south of Warracknabeal and did not make it to the terminus. This train was hauled by El Zorro’s T386 and consisted of a single empty container flat and four hoppers. A second such train was proposed, but its operation was not recorded.

The first revenue train operated on Friday 18 November 2011, consisting of locomotives T386 (El Zorro) and S300 (CFCLA) with six pairs of wagons (made up of three pairs of CHEY and three of CHBY wagons for a total of twelve hoppers).

The train travelled from Portland the previous evening and stabled in the yard for the morning. Around midday, the locos were run around the train, and the T was used to propel the hoppers back into the Iluka siding whilst the S was left idling at the up end of the silo siding.

A new purpose-built loading facility had been constructed beside the dead-end siding at the down end of the Hopetoun yard on the alignment of the former Patchewollock line. It consisted of a large two bay shed facing the rail siding where one or two front end loaders are used to load the hoppers.

Under El Zorro operation, which lasted until May 2013, a wide variety of motive power was used, including in various combinations of up to four units at a time, GM36 (CR), TL152 (CFCLA), TL155 (CFCLA), S302 (El Zorro), S312 (Railpower), T333 (VR), T342 (El Zorro), T385 (CFCLA), T386 (El Zorro modified V/Line), 1872 (Patricks), and 442s2 (Cootes). Occasionally larger power was used, including C501 (VR) and L277 (with El Zorro logos), but these were only used on the mainline leg of the journey and never on the branch north of Murtoa.

Classic back-to-back bulldog combinations were common in the first year.

In May 2013, Pacific National took over the haulage of this service, and with this change came more predictable motive power.

G536 and G531 hauled the first train they ran, and from that time until the service’s demise in November 2017, single or double combinations from the G, BL, and 81 classes dominated, with one triple lash-up reported.

The last train operated on Sunday, 5 November 2017, hauled by solo BL26.

Officially the service was suspended due to the mines near Ouyen coming to the end of their productive life, and the processing plant at Hamilton was mothballed. The intention was to possibly reopen the plant at Hamilton when new mines in southern New South Wales were developed in 2019, with the sand loaded onto rail at Manangatang. However, circumstances since then have prevented this from happening to date, and only time will tell if this product returns to rail in Victoria any time soon.

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