The opening of a new rail freight handling terminal is not an everyday event. So when Stobart Rail was asked to assist Direct Rail Services in assessing whether a defunct train carriage cleaning depot at Needlefield Yard in Inverness could possibly be converted into a multimodal container distribution facility, the project team rose to the challenge with some relish.
An early visit to site in January 2008 confirmed the size of the task facing them. Within the buildings of the disused yard were six life-expired rail heads with buffer stops as well as wooden platforms and their associated M&E. It would have been easy to mistake the place for a garden centre such was the extent of the vegetation that had taken hold both outside and within the building. In the fresh air were another 15 sidings, again with wooden platforms – all in a worn, rotten state and certainly not fit for reuse. Heaps of spoil and rubble littered the site. It had obviously been used as a dumping ground since its operational life ended and was suffering significantly from neglect.
The project team’s initial task was to confirm whether or not the site was able to accommodate a train consisting of a locomotive and ten Mega container wagons in such a way that it could work operationally. DRS’s team was instrumental in finding a solution that would work effectively and efficiently in a limited area. Once a workable design had been agreed upon, it was then left to Stobart Rail to deliver the terminal.
Network Rail in Scotland retained the lease on the property and therefore project managed the works with Stobart Rail acting as its principal contractor. Rod Hendry, Network Rail’s PM, enthused “we’re really proud to have participated in delivering this offering – it’s put rail freight transportation back on the map and it’s great we have endeavoured to do this in Scotland.”
Removal of the clutter
Once mobilised on site, the first job was to erect fencing to segregate the yard from the adjacent main line and ScotRail siding. This would enable midweek working to take place without having to disrupt train services. The usual site surveys and ground investigation works took place, together with disconnections and diversions of overhead and buried services. Once relieved of its vegetation, the whole place looked much bigger and more open; this impression was further reinforced by the removal of life-expired p-way and associated furniture. Stobart’s team next dismantled the old sheds, making good the buttresses to maintain the structural integrity of the remaining connected buildings.
Then it was on to the groundworks, installation of drainage, service ducting and interceptors, localised cut-and-fill and the importation of quarry stone for capping and formation layers. With the latter complete, track ballast was imported and compacted enabling Stobart to install the first two turnouts. Network Rail assisted the project by procuring serviceable concrete sleepers to reuse within the sidings, these being delivered to site by train to reduce the transportation burden that would otherwise have been borne by the road network.
The sleepers were unloaded, placed and spaced, the rail clipped up and new fishplates installed. Next followed the installation of a third turnout and the main-to-main crossover. Stobart Rail managed to reuse the majority of the flat bottomed rail and rebuilt two of the original buffer stops, fabricating them to suit and bolting them to the new 113lb rail. They were then fixed to new timbers and positioned at the rail heads.
In with the new
Due to the curvature of the operational design for the terminal, the new boundary fence prevented use of the No.1 siding. As a result, Stobart Rail was required to make an alternative connection to it from within the ScotRail siding, using a serviceable bullhead turnout from the old yard. The company deployed its road-rail machines for all the installation processes including tamping. Once all the components of the p-way were in place, the top ballast was dropped and the team followed up and boxed off.
A container freight handling area was then constructed along with the installation of two new sidings with buffer stops – offering an overall maximum standage of 237m and 269m – and a loop to enable locos to run round through a series of five new S&C units. The handling area comprises a concrete slab with a granular sub-base tied in to existing concrete at the depot entrance, providing space for rail-to-road transfer of containers using reach stackers. The slab is around 240m x 29m and features an additional LGV turning area, plus a 700m2 vehicle parking area which was constructed using granular fill material.
Prior to opening the terminal, DRS brought in a test train with the same consist as was planned for operation use – this ensured the design worked in real-world conditions. The only change was to introduce another area of concrete to provide extra container storage.
Key to projects of this type are the environmental benefits they bring. A little number crunching reveals just how positive an impact Stobart Rail’s Inverness-Mossend service has – a distance of 160 miles by road. Compared with a train hauled by just a single locomotive, 21 equivalent truck movements are needed both inbound and outbound. Operating six days per week, this removes 13,104 truck movements annually – mainly from the busy A9 – and a huge quantity of CO2, bringing real environmental benefits.
Kenneth Russell of John G Russell (Transport) Ltd recalls that efforts had been ongoing to unlock an intermodal terminal in Inverness for many years. Stobart Rail was appointed by Russell and DRS as lead contractor to build it – a process which “went very well with a very tight lead time. Stobart Rail passed over the completed terminal on schedule and it has operated successfully since opening. We are very pleased with the outcome.”
Needlefield is DRS’s first major purpose-built terminal and was officially opened by Stewart Stevenson, the former Scottish Government Transport Minister. It marks a significant milestone in the develoment of Scotland’s rail freight facilities. “The highly communicative and collaborative partnership between DRS and Stobart Rail was pivotal to the success of this construction project and as a result it was delivered on time and on budget” comments DRS’s Director Mike Carr, who was responsible for delivery of the project.
The facility welcomes a Class 66 and its Stobart-designed containers at 11:01 six mornings a week, with their contents then sent onwards to Tesco stores across northern Scotland.
Article courtesy of the rail engineer magazine.