A pop up rail depot

01 November 2016

Phillipa Edmunds, manager of Freight on Rail, which promotes the economic, safety and environmental benefits of rail freight, offers an early end of term report on the state of freight.


The rail freight industry in Britain continues to innovate and maximise use of existing rail capacity as it develops new and existing markets after the steep decline in coal traffic this year.

We’ve had pop up shops and popup restaurants and now DB cargo and Cemex have opened a pop up construction rail depot to serve the growing construction market in north-west England and reduce the number of HGVs transporting materials from the picturesque High Peak countryside. This is noteworthy as it demonstrates that terminals of this nature can be set up quickly, dispelling the myth that terminals take a longtime to plan and build; this one was installed in weeks on land adjacent to the West Coast main line using a ready-made weighbridge and office.

The temporary site, at Warrington in Cheshire, will handle around 125,000 tonnes of aggregates each year, transported from Dove Holes in Derbyshire, on two weekly services, with each train carrying around 1,540 tonnes.

Up to 150 HGVs would be needed to carry this load by road.


Another initiative is the building of new European standards compliant box wagons from a significant proportion of recycled materials by Freightliner. It’s the first UK rail operator to build and use a new fleet of wagons made using parts from redundant coal hoppers for its new contract with Tarmac, one of the UK’s largest users of rail freight. As Freightliner needed a fleet of modern high capacity box wagons,unavailable in the UK, it has adapted its perfectly serviceable, but redundant, HHA coal wagons in partnership with Greenbrier Europe.

Direct Rail Services continues to run a daily service six days a week for a leading supermarket between Daventry and Scotland as well as six day services to Wentloog and Purlett via Barking and back to Daventry. DRS offers secondary distribution from Mossend to Inverness. DRS now uses Class 68 locomotives which are more fuel-efficient than the Class 66 loco and thus have lower emissions. DRS’s duel fuel class 88locos, currently being tested, will also be ideal for the Daventry to Mossend and Daventry to London services as they can use electric traction, and reduce CO2 emissions even more, as well as making more efficient use of the network.


In May Freightliner launched its 23rd daily service from Felixstowe, increasing the total number of daily rail services in and out of the port to 32. The service will operate to and from the Freightliner rail port at Doncaster after development work has finished and, in the interim, it will be serviced at the DB Cargo site in Rotherham. Two months later, GB Railfreight started the 33rd service out of the port on the same route, demonstrating the scale of the demand for rail freight services which offer a fast, reliable, safe, and less polluting alternative to HGVs.

In total, rail services out of the port remove around 2,300 HGVs from the congested A14 corridor each day.There is suppressed demand for more rail freight services, especially in consumer traffic; every rail path that is available out of Felixstowe port can be used by rail immediately, demonstrating how the current funded and planned upgrades to the Felixstowe branch line, which will generate an additional ten daily paths, are crucial.

Despite shortages of capacity on the trans- Pennine route, GB Railfreight has secured extra rail slots to service its biomass services from the new Liverpool specialist biomass terminal to Drax power station, showcasing sustainable, reliable and affordable energy. The TfN freight strategy, for which Freight on Rail ran a rail freight workshop,highlights how trans-Pennine rail routes need a serious upgrade, including electrification, to revive ports in the north.

Another crucial initiative is the DfT rail freight strategy, currently being written in partnership with rail freight operators, RFG, Freight on Rail, and key rail freight customers. The new rail minister, Paul Maynard, is responsible for this strategy, which is key to giving the sector the confidence to invest, as it demonstrates the level of government support for rail freight and future funding for upgrades on the network.

A key objective of the strategy is to show to what extent rail freight is already a crucial element of the supply chain as well as its potential to expand its market share. Road and rail freight complement each other and it is crucial that both modes play to their strengths to offer an integrated supply chain solution to customers who are mode agnostic. In particular, rail freight is best placed to provide long-haul trunk services for consumer products (container traffic) as well as the traditional bulk services.


The strategy looks in detail at how to maximise use of existing capacity, how to safeguard strategic capacity in the future, how to work with network rail to support the development of the virtual freight route which is vital to protect rail freight interests across the national network in our increasingly devolved world. It also explores the importance of the next round of freight track access charging, taking into account all the economic, social and environmental benefits of rail freight, compared to HGVs, to UK plc. Freight on Rail is campaigning strongly to get the market distortions between HGVs and rail taken into account so that rail freight can compete more fairly with HGVs. Otherwise the economy and the public, who overwhelmingly support a shift to rail, will lose out.

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