Going beyond limits: how Freightliner boosts rail efficiency on the UK tracks

2021/06/04 at 12:11 PM

British rail operator Freightliner has been breaking records for several years in a row. It seems that the company tests the durability of the country’s railway network. However, this pursuit for the highest performance has a positive impact on UK’s rail sector. How does it work?

Let’s start with a length… Length of freight trains. For many European railway officials, this issue seems to be crucial and unachievable as there are too much discussions and buzz but without a very few tangible results. The expiring week has revealed one of them. Freightliner, UK’s second-largest rail freight operator, started to haul 775-metre long container trains, which are 250 metres longer than the conventional ones.

Better connectivity

The new service enhanced rail connectivity of UK’s major seaports. On behalf of DP World in the UK, the British carrier launched the new ultra-long container trains to two deep-water ports at Southampton and London Gateway that are run by the UAE-headquartered terminal operator. “Both ports already have a high degree of rail interconnectivity, with Southampton having the highest proportion of containers moved by train in the UK at more than 30 per cent and London Gateway aiming to achieve similar levels,” said Ernst Schulze, CEO of DP World in the UK.

Freightliner Class 70 locomotive hauls flat wagons with containers, source: Wikimedia Commons

The 775-metre long trains depart from the freight rail terminals at Southampton and London Gateway on weekdays and run towards Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds. According to DP World, the mentioned ports will be the first harbours in the United Kingdom to handle ultra-long container trains. Each 775-metre-long train is able to carry from 12 to 14 additional boxes. This contributes to more efficient operations and reduction of carbon footprint by removing trucks from roads. Currently, the shift-to-rail policy allows both ports to take 300,000 lorries off the British roads each year. This figure is expected to increase in the coming years.

More freight, less trains

Besides the ultra-long container services, Freightliner, a subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming (G&W), is also focused on increasing the weight of freight moved. Two years ago the British operator began to experiment with the so-called ‘jumbo’ trains that carry the heaviest volumes of freight in the UK railway network. Freightliner provides its jumbo train shipments mainly for the construction companies. As a result, they typically carry aggregates and construction materials. One could argue that the freight operator cements (or, more common, strengthens) the role of railways for the UK economy.

Freightliner’s jumbo train set a new record in July 2019, source: Freightliner

What about records in terms of weight? In July 2019 Freightliner’s locomotive hauled the train weighing 4,624 tonnes. This figure is still considered to be a record on the British tracks. Within the four-hour long shipment, the rail freight operator delivered aggregate from Merehead in Somerset and Acton in London for Hanson UK and Aggregate Industries, the largest cement producers in the UK. Freightliner performed that shipment to examine haulage capability of its locomotive.

Meanwhile, the company is continuing to run its jumbo trains with a little bit less weight. This year has witnessed some examples. For instance, Freightliner’s locomotives hauled several trains, which weigh from 3,600 to 4,230 tonnes, for Tarmac, the British producer of the construction materials. “The environmental benefits of this additional tonnage moved by rail are impressive – removing 140 lorries from the UK’s congested roads and a saving of around 112 tonnes CO2 compared to road,” the rail operator summed up the results of the jumbo train services.

Powerful locos

The heavier freight trains would not have been possible without powerful locomotives operated by Freightliner. It is the GE PowerHaul vehicles, which are known in Britain as Class 70 locomotives. This type is more powerful than Class 66 units that are widely popular in the UK: 3,690 horsepower against 3,300 horsepower. All the jumbo services are hauled by Class 70 vehicles. Freightliner was the first operator that ordered this type of locomotives from General Electric. Currently, the company’s fleet includes 19 GE PowerHaul locos.

Freightliner’s jumbo train carries aggregate for Tarmac, source: Freightliner

Moreover, the rail freight operator is using the mentioned type of rolling stock for other experiments. This time it is about fuel. Within the decarbonisation policy, Freightliner successfully tested hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO). In March the vehicle of this kind hauled the 4,000-tonne train. “A highly successful trial where the locomotive performed as it would running on diesel as well as meeting diagram timings. Just one of a number of innovative, energy saving initiatives that sees Freightliner continue to lead the way in low carbon freight,” the company highlighted. According to it, this innovative fuel allows reducing CO2 emissions by 1,810 kilogrammes compared to conventional diesel.

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