The operation of the cane railway (often referred to as "tramway") is basically very simple. Each locomotive collects a rake of "bins" from the empty yard at the mill and delivers them to various loading points on its run. It normally runs cab first with empty bins, a practice dating back to steam days. The loading points take the form of sidings where the bins are stored while waiting to be filled by cane farmers or harvesting contractors. On its return run, the locomotive picks up full bins from the various delivery points and hauls its train to the mill, delivering them to the full yard.

From there, the bins are automatically taken through the weighbridge to the tippler where the cane is emptied, entering the mill for processing. The empty bins proceed to the empty yard for the cycle to be repeated. It takes about 8 tonnes of cane to produce one tonne of raw sugar. There are generally three 8-hour shifts for the locomotive crews, but the majority of harvesting takes place during daylight hours and part of the role of the cane railway is to smooth out the supply of cane to the mill over a 24-hour period.