UK first rail freight electrification trial boosts industry net zero ambitions

  • UK first electrification system for rail freight terminals supports path to net zero rail

  • Roll-in roll-out electric freight trains could reduce delays to passenger services

  • Innovative moveable system overcomes conflict between loading freight trains and overhead electrical equipment

A rail freight terminal in Northamptonshire has become the first in the UK to demonstrate an innovative overhead electrification system, which could spell the end for diesel on electrified rail routes and boost the industry’s net zero ambitions.

The Decarbonisation & Electrification of Freight Terminals (DEFT) project, funded by the Department for Transport and Innovate UK, has seen project partners Furrer+Frey GB, Tarmac and GB Railfreight demonstrate a new way of decarbonising rail and lessen freight’s impact on passenger journeys.

Freight trains are typically loaded and unloaded from above, preventing the use of the high voltage overhead cables used on mainline railways.  As such, they still rely on diesel to move in and out of terminals and passengers can be held up by slower diesel freight trains on mainlines, or those waiting to be moved into a depot by a shunter.

Engineers from Furrer+Frey GB designed a Moveable Overhead Conductor system where overhead equipment supplying electricity to the locomotives can safely move away once the train is in place and return when the train needs to move again.

Furrer+Frey’s innovative system is being trialled at an aggregate facility – run by one of world’s leading construction materials businesses, Tarmac – in Wellingborough, in partnership with GB Railfreight.

The facility is adjacent to the Midland Mainline, which is currently being electrified and upgraded by Network Rail as part of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan, to increase capacity for passengers and freight trains.

If successful, the moveable overhead system could go on to be deployed at other freight terminals across the UK and support the full decarbonisation of Britain’s railways.

Rail Minister Wendy Morton said:

“It is fantastic to see winners of our First Of A Kind competition getting out there and helping transform the railways for the better.

“Making rail freight even more environmentally friendly helps us leap forward in our plans to build back greener and make the whole UK net zero by 2050.”

Noel Dolphin, Head of UK projects at Furrer+Frey GB, said:

“The electrification of freight terminals is the biggest technological hurdle to net zero rail freight and we have just overcome it. The demonstrator shows how we can plug freight yards into electrified rail lines and operate them safely and efficiently with the locomotives we already have – meaning greener, cleaner and better journeys.

“This moveable conductor system means trains pull in on electricity, disconnect from it to safely load and unload, then reconnect to travel on.

“I’m proud of our team and partners for getting us to this milestone moment today showing a greener future for the industry.”

Chris Swan, head of rail at Tarmac, said:

“Decarbonising transport has been highlighted as one of the key areas in which we can help achieve net zero across the construction industry.

“Supporting this exciting project is just the latest step in the ongoing development of our rail freight capabilities, which forms part of Tarmac’s wider commitment to reducing CO2 across the whole business.

“We’re always keen to explore new initiatives and innovations that can help us move materials to the right place at the right time more efficiently and sustainably.”

John Smith, CEO GB Railfreight, said:

“Rail freight is already a greener alternative to moving goods by road but innovations like the Moveable Overhead Conductor System, and electrification more broadly, will allow us to go even further.

“At the same time as combatting climate change, they also bolster operations, and the reliability and efficiency of rail freight.

“We continue to work with the UK government to fulfil our industry’s potential and this is a great example of what can be achieved when the industry and government work together effectively.”

Rail freight is already much greener than moving goods by road. Lorries emit nine times the emissions of rail freight per tonne kilometre. Shifting goods from roads to the railways is an important pillar of the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan.

Seamless electrification for freight could begin to see slower, more polluting diesel trains being phased out.  In 2018 the Government challenged the rail industry to remove all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040 as part of a drive to achieving the UK’s ambitious net zero goals, as well as to help improve air quality and reduce noise pollution.

The system being trialled in Northamptonshire is based on one developed by Furrer+Frey for passenger train depots, used by Eurostar and LNER, and has been installed by SPL Powerlines.

The DEFT project is one of 30 groundbreaking initiatives that have won a share of £9 million from the Department for Transport, in partnership with Innovate UK. The competition is focused on developing pioneering technology and exceptional ideas that can improve journeys for travellers, encourage passengers back onto the network and reduce the environmental impacts of rail as the country builds back better from Covid-19.

The DEFT concept was endorsed by members of the Rail Forum Midlands in 2020 as a viable method to decarbonise UK rail freight, leading to the successful funding bid to InnovateUK and the Department for Transport.

Tarmac is among the largest users of rail freight, transporting construction materials by rail UK-wide as part of the business’ ongoing sustainability commitments.

GB Railfreight and Porterbrook partner to build 50 new wagons for sustainable rail freight growth

GB Railfreight (GBRf) and rolling stock company Porterbrook are today (15th March) announcing the production of 50 new Greenbrier box wagons, building on their 15-year relationship as part of a sharp growth in rail freight demand.

The transaction marks a renewed commitment from the companies to developing sustainable freight transport to meet the significant expected growth in the sector. Recent research by IPEX on the UK market, commissioned by Porterbrook, cited projections that intermodal rail freight is forecast to grow by over 10%, between 2022 and 2034 while construction sector traffic is expected to increase by up to 35% over the same period.

David Golding, Asset Director at GB Railfreight, said:

“By partnering with Porterbrook, the new rolling stock marks our commitment to supporting sustainability in the construction sector. As we look towards the future, this investment will help meet growing demand for rail freight services, whilst playing a key role in the delivery of Government’s net zero targets.”

The partnership between GB Railfreight, Porterbrook and Greenbrier builds on rail’s strong environmental credentials. It also supports the government’s wider transport decarbonisation plans by encouraging a modal shift in the transportation of goods from road to rail.

Mark Wyborn, Head of Freight at Porterbrook said:

“Today’s announcement strengthens Porterbrook’s long-term commitment to investing in rail freight and the tangible benefits this will bring not only to the economy, but to the UK’s green recovery.”

“We are thrilled that GB Railfreight has chosen to extend its partnership with Porterbrook and support us in our ambitions to bring green, innovative and affordable rolling stock options to the UK supply chain.”

GB Railfreight boosts sustainability by trialling new battery powered locomotive

GB Railfreight (GBRf) has taken delivery of a Class 18 hybrid+ shunting locomotive as part of a three-month trial with Beacon Rail Leasing, marking the latest expansion of its growing fleet. 

As GBRf looks towards the future of its assets, the shunting locomotive will enable low noise and zero emissions, demonstrating a clear contribution to the challenge of meeting the UK’s net zero carbon targets.

The locomotive was delivered to Whitemoor on Tuesday 1 February, where it will undergo a series of testing to understand its capabilities and performance.

Manufactured by Clayton Equipment Ltd, the Class 18 is powered by an onboard battery that provides emissions-free operation where charging facilities are available, or through a regenerative braking system. When challenges with range or operation occur, an efficient onboard Stage V compliant engine can be utilised to increase the locomotives running time.

David Golding, Asset Director, GB Railfreight, said:

“The Class 18 hybrid+ shunting locomotive has the power to play a key role in the decarbonisation of our future fleet. Going forward, it will offer a wide range of sustainable benefits capable of significantly reducing the environmental impact of our operations.”

Rob Dee, Chief Commercial Officer, Beacon, said:

“We are very pleased to have delivered the first of our order of 15 Class 18 hybrid+ shunting locomotives, from Clayton Equipment, to GB Railfreight.  This is a key milestone in our delivery program and we look forward to working with GB Railfreight through their trial period. This locomotive will offer our customers a greener and sustainable option for railfreight operations in the UK against the backdrop of targets to reduce emissions,”.

Clive Hannaford, Managing Director, Clayton Equipment, said:

“We are very proud to supply GB Railfreight through Beacon Rail with the Class 18 locomotive. In the fast-changing environment with decarbonisation targets, the increased demand for lower emissions, new technology and more capacity, the Clayton Equipment Hybrid+ CBD90 will support GBRf with sustainable environmental benefits which meets their commitment to invest in new technology and provide real cost savings”.

GB Railfreight Delivers New High-Speed Electric Fleet for Lumo

GB Railfreight (GBRf), in partnership with Hitachi Rail, is proud to have supported Lumo by delivering its brand-new fleet of Class 803 high-speed electric trains that entered service last month.

Since May, GBRf has provided Hitachi Rail with train planning, haulage, and crews for the testing of these new trains which aim to bring rapid, low-cost, electric travel to the East Coast Main Line, from London to Edinburgh. GBRf will shortly deliver the fifth and final train for the Lumo fleet to Hitachi Rail’s Edinburgh depot in Craigentinny.

Moving forward, the long-term partnership between GBRf and Hitachi Rail will focus on commissioning new trains for East Midlands Railway and the West Coast Partnership, in addition to transit and testing operations in support of existing fleets across the country.

John Smith, CEO of GB Railfreight, said:

 Working closely with our long-standing client Hitachi Rail, we’ve ensured the new fleet of Class 803 welcomes passengers as promised. This is a giant step forward in showcasing the role electric rail travel can, and must play, if the UK is to meet its net zero targets.”

 Gary Townsend, Project Manager, Hitachi Rail, said:

 “When it came to selecting a partner to act as Test Train Operator for the ECOA/Lumo fleet Hitachi chose GBRf based on their previous performance and values.  Once again, they have delivered collaboratively with Hitachi against the backdrop of a global pandemic to deliver these 100% electric trains on time for the service launch.”

GB Railfreight names Class 92 electric locomotive at COP26

GB Railfreight has named a Class 92 electric locomotive ‘Billy Stirling’ during a ceremony at Mossend International Railfreight Park (MIRP) as part of COP26 in Glasgow.

Located next to the electrified West Coast Main Line, MIRP is Scotland’s largest international multi-modal rail freight park and welcomes up to 16 trains per day. At peak operation, the rail freight park has the capacity to save over 200,00 tonnes of carbon per year, supporting a transition to a zero-carbon economy.

The naming ceremony formed part of the ‘Let’s Talk about Rail Freight’ day at the Low Carbon Logistics event, developed to support the UK and Scottish Governments’ vision for a zero-carbon supply chain at COP26 and was unveiled by Billy Stirling’s daughter, Julie Corr.

Low Carbon Logistics is a three-day event committed to raising the profile and awareness of low carbon transition in the rail and road freight sectors, providing the opportunity to celebrate innovation and promote the importance of Pulling Together for Net Zero.

As the third generation of the 151-year-old family-owned operator, Peter D. Stirling Limited, Billy Stirling introduced rail involvement into the company. Following this success, the Peter D. Stirling operation moved to Mossend Railhead in 1981. Under Billy’s guidance, the operator continued to thrive, resulting in the MIPR of present day.

Class 92s are the most powerful electric locomotives in the UK, with the ability to work all over the electrified network as well as through the Channel Tunnel in France. They have been specially converted for operation of Caledonian Sleeper vehicles.

Tim Hartley, Business Development Director of GB Railfreight, said:

“Billy Stirling was a true pioneer of the modern rail freight market in Scotland and played a vital role in the UK’s economic prosperity. It’s great to see his legacy live on through the next generation of the Stirling family and the development of a major new low carbon, multi-modal rail freight facility in MIRP.”

David Stirling, Managing Director of Peter D. Stirling Limited, said:

 The whole Stirling family is very pleased that our father, Billy Stirling’s hard work in building up the business has been recognised in such a magnificent way . His name is now attached to one of the strongest and ‘greenest’ electric freight locomotives around – something he would have been very proud of.”

GBRf & MSC UK drive sustainability with new 5-year rail deal

GBRf & MSC UK drive sustainability with new 5-year rail deal

GB Railfreight (GBRf) and Mediterranean Shipping Company (UK) Ltd. (MSC) are delighted to announce a new five-year deal, further strengthening their long-established relationship and joint commitment to delivering sustainable solutions for customers.

GBRf has been a provider of rail services to MSC since 2002. Their knowledge and expertise in supplying locomotives and wagons combined with MSC’s extensive line haulage services enables the two companies to deliver market leading door-to-door services to their customers.

The new agreement will be volume-based and is expected to increase wagon utilisation that in turn will help further reduce carbon emissions.

MSC commented:

MSC is once again delighted to confirm a new five year deal with GBRf who have been supporting MSC with our Intermodal rail services since 2002. Our priority was to continue to offer unparalleled capability and flexibility to our line haulage customers in a fast paced and ever evolving UK intermodal market. Increased wagon utilisation was a key component from the start and engagement with ports and inland terminals to support this initiative took place early on.

We are delighted that our new shared contract will allow both MSC and GBRf to continue our work in taking steps to reduce CO2 emissions by moving containers via rail, closer to final destination.”

 The services will operate from Felixstowe and London Gateway to both the Midlands and Yorkshire , with a minimum commitment of 5 days a week. Over the course of the next five years, the deal will remain agile and be able to provide flexibility to changing market dynamics while supporting MSC’s intermodal volume growth.

John Smith, Managing Director at GB Railfreight, said:

“We are thrilled to have signed this contract with MSC. They are a longstanding partner and one of the leading shipping and logistics companies in the world, and we are delighted to be able to continue working with them for the next five years.

“Given MSC’s projected future growth we have struck a flexible agreement which will allow both parties to make better use of the services we share. As a business we always put the clients first and we are delighted to be able to cater to MSC’s needs with this contract renewal.

“With the economic picture looking uncertain, I am pleased we will continue working with MSC – a move which shows that the rail freight market is in good shape and will be needed more than ever as we begin the road back to recovery.”

 With proven records of ability to adapt to fast-paced, changing economic and market climates, both GBRf and MSC will be further supporting their customers’ supply chains with increased stability, flexibility and sustainability.

GBRf works with Biffa to turn derelict land into emission reducing transport hub

GBRf works with Biffa to turn derelict land into emission reducing transport hub

Previously unused land in East London has been transformed into a transport hub, linking key waste sites with leading waste manager Biffa’s facilities by rail. The Renwick Road site opens today in partnership with GB Railfreight (GBRf) and will be able to transport 250,000 tonnes of waste from London by rail.

Transporting waste by rail is a key strategic aim for Biffa which is working towards transporting 50% of all its waste by rail by 2025. Since it launched its strategic partnership with GBRf in 2018, over a million tonnes of waste have been transported by rail, saving more than one million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions from reaching the atmosphere.

Mick Davis, Chief Operating Officer for Resources and Energy Division at Biffa said:

“The opening of our new rail hub marks the next step in our strategic partnership with GBRf to increase our capacity for transportation by rail. It will help us reduce dependence on vehicles on the road and reduce the emissions we produce. The site was totally derelict when we took it on and amongst the rubbish and debris we cleared, we actually found some interesting items, including one and a half tonnes of World War Two bullets.”

John Smith, Managing Director at GBRf commented:

“We are delighted to be working with Biffa on this project and our collaboration will see us move thousands of tonnes of waste in a sustainable way. This is the way forward if we are to reach the net zero carbon emission target by 2050 and we look forward to continuing our partnership with Biffa in the months and years to come to ensure more waste can be removed by rail.”

Biffa has spent £4.2 million developing the site, removing 14,000 tonnes of previously fly-tipped waste and debris. Renwick Road has always been a railway yard, with its earliest record dating back to 1864. It fell out of use in 1991 and has remained unused until now. Operating five trains a week, Renwick Road will transport waste from North and East London to sites at Roxby, Scunthorpe, Leeds and Manchester.

Benefits of transporting waste by rail:

  1. It helps manage waste more sustainably, taking vehicles off the road
  2. Transporting waste by rail reduces the number of emissions produced by vehicles – through its rail transportation Biffa has reduced its emissions by 75%
  3. Local communities can benefit as there is less traffic on the road


Biffa and GBRf have been working together since 2018 when they announced the partnership to transport more waste by rail. It came after the opening of a transfer station in Manchester in 2017 and one in Leeds in 2018.

GBRf secures contract with Network Rail for Rail Innovation & Development Centre at Melton

GB Railfreight (GBRf), one of the largest rail freight operators in the UK, has struck an agreement with Network Rail for the operation of its Rail Innovation & Development Centre (RIDC) Melton at its facility in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.

The contract, signed this week by GBRf Managing Director John Smith  will run from 1 April 2021 and last for four years.

RIDC Melton offers a dedicated test facility to provide safe and reliable testing environments for new and modified technology within the rail industry. This is a unique high speed test facility for the UK rail industry: it provides a safe specialised non-mainline facility for the testing, validation and commissioning of new and modified rolling stock, plant, on track machines, infrastructure, equipment and technology, away from the constraints of the mainline network.

RIDC Melton  has been purpose-built to support both high and low speed testing.  The facility provides two separate test tracks: a high-speed 13 mile test track between Melton Junction and Edwalton up to 125mph – 11 miles of this with 25kV overhead line equipment (OLE);  and a slower-speed 4 mile test track from Old Dalby to Stanton Tunnel up to 60mph with 25kV OLE and DC 4th rail capability.

Tim Hartley, Business Development Director at GB Railfreight, said:

“Winning this contract not only expands GB Railfreight’s offering to Network Rail but also to the stakeholders of RIDC Melton.  This is another diversification to our traditional business model of running freight trains but positions us really well to offer a more efficient end-to end service to all RIDC stakeholders. Innovation is at the heart of our business model, so running the operations at RIDC Melton is very exciting for us.”

GBRf announce new intermodal service for Maritime Transport

GB Railfreight are delighted to announce the start of a new intermodal service in partnership with Maritime Transport Ltd, running from the Port of Felixstowe to Maritime Transport’s location at Wakefield Europort.

This new service marks GBRf’s continued expansion into the intermodal market and underlines the vital role rail freight plays in delivering goods around the country. The new Felixstowe to Wakefield service represents GBRf’s seventh intermodal into a Maritime facility and will operate on a weekly basis, running Monday to Friday from the UK’s busiest container port.

The rake will initially comprise of a mix of wagon types, including two Eco Triples, two Q8s and eleven IKA Twins. The combination of a variety of wagons is significant, as it allows for enhanced flexibility, maximising the number of boxes that can be carried to better satisfy consumer demand and make more effective use of overall capacity.

This announcement also re-emphasises GBRf’s strong position as it leads the way to grow the rail freight sector at a time of unprecedented economic challenge. GB Railfreight now operates 21 intermodal services in total and the continued expansion of intermodal services in the UK reaffirms the industry’s commitment to put the UK back on track after COVID-19, while also demonstrating a sustained commitment to the decarbonisation of our economy.

John Smith, Managing Director at GB Railfreight, said:

“I am thrilled to see the beginning of this new service. We are extremely proud to be able to continue our work with Maritime to deliver first-class service, which demonstrates sustained growth for our companies and shows an inherent trust in our long-standing partnership.

“Our growth in intermodal shows GBRf’s dedication to innovation, offering flexible door-to-door solutions that meet our customer’s needs, as well as a consistently reliable service.”

John Bailey, Managing Director – Intermodal and Terminals at Maritime Transport said:

“Following what has been a year of new challenges for those throughout the industry, it has been incredibly important for us as business to continue to build not just sustainable but robust solutions to ensure the stability of the supply chain. This new service is testament to this and we are very pleased to be working with GB Railfreight to deliver essential intermodal services to our customers.”

Commenting on the latest addition to the port’s roster of rail services, Chris Lewis, Chief Executive Officer at the Port of Felixstowe, said:

“Expanding the number of rail services available to importers and exporters from the port is one of our key objectives. The Port of Felixstowe is the Northern Powerhouse’s major container gateway and approximately 50% of traffic between Felixstowe and the North moves by rail. Increasing the number of services is good for the port, good for our customers and good for the environment.

“With three dedicated rail terminals at the port we offer more rail services to more inland destinations with greater frequency than any other UK port.”

GB Railfreight partner with Wascosa to supply innovative modular wagons for UK Rail Infrastructure services

GB Railfreight (GBRf) and Wascosa are today unveiling a new partnership to supply innovative modular wagons for UK Rail Infrastructure services. GBRf, one of the UK’s fastest growing transport companies, is joining forces with the Lucerne-based company Wascosa.

Through this partnership, GB Railfreight and Wascosa will undertake a wagon leasing contract with UK railway network owner and infrastructure manager, Network Rail, who will lease these wagons for 10 years, in a move that will modernise their existing systems. Wascosa will own and provide a total of 570 wagons, commissioned to be built by Greenbrier Europe, a high-end freight railcar manufacturer. The role of GB Railfreight will be to maintain the condition of the new wagons, while also owning and building the modules to be positioned on the newly developed structures.

Of the 570-strong fleet, there will be: 260 ‘Falcon’ box wagons, used for possession site work; 50 ‘Big Box’ wagons for bulk ballast transportation; and 260 ‘Flat Wagons’, a modular wagon developed by Wascosa for the carriage of track panels, sleepers, switches, rails and loose materials. The first of these wagons and superstructures will be in operation in late 2021.

The partnership was made possible by GB Railfreight’s provision of a range of innovative superstructures, which will be mounted on the fleet of 260 container flats. This ground-breaking solution for Network Rail embodies GB Railfreight’s fundamental commitment to creating innovation as the new standard, and this recent collaboration positions both companies perfectly for future resilience and growth in the UK.

Mark Wyborn who concluded the deal for GB Railfreight said:

“For GB Railfreight, being able to collaborate with the industry to offer a flexible wagon solution to Network Rail is crucial to be able to deal with supply chain demands for the future, especially during uncertain times. Equally as important is modernisation of infrastructure assets that will last for many years.

“GB Railfreight are delighted to have partnered with Wascosa to lead the way and now in a position to offer innovative wagon solution to Network Rail that achieves both modernisation and future wagon supply chain demands.”

Commenting on the successful outcome Mick Tinsley, Wascosa’s representative in the UK, said:

“This is an exciting development for Wascosa. We have worked closely with Network Rail and our partners to jointly develop a modern, flexible wagon solution that will support the UK rail infrastructure maintenance and renewals programmes for many years to come. This provides us with a sound platform from which to grow further in the UK.”