‘Jumbo’ freight train first for West Coast main line

The heaviest freight train ever to run on the West Coast main line has made its debut journey from the Peak District to London with essential construction materials.

On Wednesday 17 March, the so-called ‘jumbo service’  hauled 3,600 tonnes of aggregate 203 miles from Tarmac’s Tunstead quarry in Derbyshire to Wembley Yard in London.

It saw two Freightliner trains coupling together* with a combined total length of 590 metres and consisting of 39 wagons.

It was carrying aggregate for use in roads and major infrastructure projects in the south east, such as HS2. 

On arrival into London the train split into two, and each continued on their separate journeys – 20 wagons headed to Battersea and the remaining 19 to Paddington New Yard.

It’s hoped the jumbo train experiment will benefit the environment by taking construction traffic off roads and with more transported by rail instead.

Network Rail, Tarmac and Freightliner were able to test the concept of merging two heavyweight freight trains while fewer services are running on the West Coast main line during the coronavirus lockdown.

David Hunter, senior route freight manager for Network Rail, said: “The pandemic’s made us all think differently and in rail freight’s case, we’re taking advantage of the space available in the timetable.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen a train of this weight and length take this route. By transporting more and further afield, we’re showing how the rail industry is building back better – adapting more efficiently to the needs of our economy and environment.”

Tim Shakerley, Managing Director of UK Rail Services at Freightliner said: “Freightliner has worked closely with Tarmac and Network Rail to demonstrate the viability of running jumbo services from the Peak District. 

“Transporting more freight on each train boosts both improvements to the productivity and efficiency of services and drives further environmental benefits by reducing the carbon emissions of each tonne of freight moved.

“We welcome the cross-industry support to trial these initiatives while demand for passenger travel is reduced and look forward to working in partnership with all stakeholders to secure these efficiency gains into the future.”

Chris Swan, Head of Rail at Tarmac, said: “Effective use of the rail network is key in supporting the transition to a net zero society, and collaborative approaches are vital in helping the industry drive forward more innovation and sustainable solutions. 

“We’re delighted to see the successful trail our first 40 wagon train transporting essential construction materials from Derbyshire to London as part of our ongoing  commitment to supporting the delivery a low-carbon built environment.” 

Since the start of 2020, Network Rail and rail freight operators have collaborated to allow freight trains to move more goods each time they run, and to operate more efficiently on the network.

With reduced demand for passenger travel, trains have been rescheduled to make better use of network capacity, unlocking benefits for rail freight customers and the UK economy. It’s hoped this collaboration is the start of other jumbo train opportunities across the network.

Every 24 hours, 188,000 tonnes of critical supplies – including food, fuel and medicine – are moved by rail between London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow.

That’s 1.13 million tonnes** every week – most of it transported along the West Coast main line (WCML), the busiest mixed-use (passenger and freight) railway in Europe, and its key spurs.

Photo credit: Network Rail

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