Optimizing Rail Operations of a Container Port

Optimizing Rail Operations of a Container Port


Port Botany is the second largest container port in Australia handling 2.8m TEU (a twenty-foot equivalent unit) p.a.

Over 40% of all NSW (New South Wales) household goods are imported through Port Botany. It contributes $13.6bn to NSW Gross State Product and supports about 52,000 jobs in the Sydney region.

GHD is a global professional services company that provides clients with integrated solutions through engineering, environmental, design, and construction expertise. GHD helped NSW Ports to assess infrastructure and operational changes.


Growing rail mode share was critical to optimize Port Botany's capacity and reduce road congestion in Sydney. The purpose of developing the model was to extend the rail mode share from 15% to 40% by 2045 and significantly increase anticipated port rail throughput.

Additionally, Port Botany needed to resolve some challenges with an inflexible rail schedule and inefficient rail operations. There were also some constraints in the infrastructure.

Port Botany already had a model to test different scenarios, change some parameters, and see the impacts.

Port Botany’s supply chains were complicated. The main reasons for that were the following:


GHD used the existing model of NSW Ports and expanded it to assess infrastructure and operational changes. GHD included a number of different components for a realistic representation of rail operations.

The port supply chains model

The port supply chains model (click to enlarge)

Firstly, GHD developers simulated the alternative train schedule and rebooking rules.

In this visual example, the rail schedule, with the inputs at the top, shows different rail slots and trains assigned to arrive at different times. At the bottom, there are outputs from the simulation of one week. There could be free slots, rebooking of a train slot, and cancellations.

Rail schedule

Rail schedule (click to enlarge)

The additional elements GHD needed to simulate were the train shunting and cargo loading process, for example, any limitations on trains that can enter and leave the port.

The train shunting and cargo loading process

The train shunting and cargo loading process (click to enlarge)

The rail capacity limits

The rail capacity limits

Scenarios tested with simulation modeling

Scenarios tested with simulation modeling (click to enlarge)

In the illustration on the right, the rail capacity limits were also tested with the simulation model. GHD set up a scenario and ran it for a year with test scheduling, operational changes, and infrastructure.

If everything was working fine, then rail cargo grew linearly as cargo was added until it started hitting certain capacity limits. Then the rail cargo throughput stopped increasing as the model developers continued to scale off the cargo entering the system.

Other indicators of system capacity limits were long cargo dwell times, as well as imports and exports building up.

The simulation model has helped address port planning challenges. Potential growth of 20% in rail throughput capacity was identified from operational changes. AnyLogic simulation software enabled GHD to find the critical infrastructure bottleneck for the next decade of rail throughput growth. In future, this model could be expanded by adding total cargo costs and emissions impacts.

On top of that, using this approach, a staged infrastructure upgrade pathway was identified. In the illustration below on the left, GHD set up several scenarios with different types of rules regarding infrastructure and operations to find out the rail capacity.

They started with a current-day rail usage throughput. The red line shows future rail capacity if business as usual continues. The blue line illustrates rail scheduling changes that could increase potential gains by 20%. And the yellow one shows that critical identified bottleneck around rail shunting could unlock an additional 120% of rail capacity.


The AnyLogic model was fundamental to developing a rail strategy of NSW Ports to optimize rail operations and maximize rail capacity. NSW Ports have used this model to test a number of different scenarios and understand what potential benefits for business could be through the operational changes or investment in rail infrastructure.

Additionally, they are also using the outputs of the model to advocate for changes in government policy to support increased use of rail.

Thanks to the model, it is possible to assess the environmental benefits of rail. It is important for sustainability, particularly in supply chains which are very heavy industries producing a lot of emissions. NSW Ports can test environmental outputs and choose the scenarios which are more beneficial for them.

Port planning

Port planning (click to enlarge)

And finally, NSW Ports uses the AnyLogic model to support business cases for investment in rail infrastructure. The model outputs are helpful in developing new infrastructure and removing the identified bottleneck. NSW Ports are also using the model to support business cases for investment in other rail infrastructure, for example, an automatic rail unloading crane.

The case study was presented by Jarrad Cayzer, of NSW Ports, and Rhet Magaraggia, of GHD, at the AnyLogic Conference 2022.

The slides are available as a PDF.

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