‘Jumbo’ freight train first for West Coast main line: Jumbo freightliner service on first West Coast main line journey

Friday 19 Mar 2021

‘Jumbo’ freight train first for West Coast main line

Region & Route:
North West & Central
| North West & Central: North West

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.

Notes to Editors

*The Jumbo service

The jumbo service was made up of a single class 70 locomotive providing the pulling power to a class 66 locomotive and 39 wagons, with 3,600 tonnes in tow to travel between the Peak District and London for their customers Tarmac. This is the heaviest aggregates service to have operated on this route.

** The main flows and types of freight on North West & Central:

  • Royal Mail (Wembley – Shieldmuir, Glasgow) – post and parcels.
  • Deep Sea Intermodal – (Scotland to Deep Sea Ports) - import / export (white goods, imported goods etc)
  • Domestic Intermodal – (Daventry to Scotland) - internal, mainly supermarkets and high street supplies
  • Petroleum – (Grangemouth – Dalston in Cumbria) - Around 7000t of fuel each week
  • Cement – (Clitheroe – Scotland) – cement supplies
  • China Clay / Paper Slurry – (Belgium to Irvine in Scotland & Aberdeen to Workington Paper Mill) – slurry for paper mills
  • Timber for paper making – Carlisle to Shropshire
  • Automotive – (Dagenham – Scotland) - imported vehicles for sale in Scotland
  • Petroleum flows Humberside to oil terminal at Kingsbury, supplying petrol forecourts across the West Midlands
  • Steel flows to Wolverhampton and Round Oak, Stourbridge
  • Steel flows through the West Midlands
  • Imported Chinese goods into Birmingham (Lawley Street, Hams Hall) and Tamworth (Birch Coppice) from the Ports (Felixstowe, London Gateway and Southampton) - consumables including white goods, food, household goods
  • MOD transits
  • Nuclear traffic

Other materials carried across NW&C:

  • Biomass (between Liverpool and Drax Power)
  • Steel (various flows)
  • Sand for glass making (Ravenhead & Ince and Elton)
  • Aggregates (Peak Forest & Arcow to Manchester, London, West Midlands, Eastern Counties)
  • Gypsum – imported rock for plasterboard making
  • Coal – limited flows to remaining power stations
  • Household waste – Knowsley to Wilton, Manchester to Liverpool

Average tonnages (average daily tonnage of 188,000 tonnes multiplied by six days in the week to reach a total of 1.128 million tonnes a week)

  • WCML through Preston is around 20,000t per day
  • Peak Forest (Buxton) is around 40,000t per day
  • South Cheshire (Northwich) is around 18,000t to 20,000t per day
  • Manchester Piccadilly is around 21,000t per day
  • Liverpool area is around 20,000t per day
  • Settle & Carlisle is around 10,000t per day
  • Humberside to Kingsbury 7,000t per day
  • Steel to and through West Midlands 8,000t per day
  • Consumables from China to West Midlands 12,000t per day
  • Other services around 30,000t per day

Contact information

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