Rail freight

Rail industry's first freight electrification trial aids net-zero ambitions

A rail freight terminal in Northamptonshire is the first to demonstrate an overhead electrification system in the UK helping the industry’s net-zero ambitions.

The Decarbonisation & Electrification of Freight Terminals (DEFT) project shows a new way of decarbonising rail and lessening freight’s impact on passenger services.

The project is funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) and Innovate UK with project partners Furrer+Frey GB, Tarmac and GB Railfreight leading the demonstration.

A Moveable Overhead Conductor has been designed by engineers from Furrer+Frey GB where overhead equipment supplying power to the train can safely be moved away.

Once the train is in place these can safely move back into place once the train needs to move again.

The innovative system is being trialled at an aggregate facility in Wellingborough which is run by Tarmac in partnership with GB Railfreight.

The facility is located adjacent to the Midland Mainline which is currently being electrified and upgraded as part of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan.

If successful the moveable overhead system could be installed at freight terminals across the country.

Noel Dolphin, Head of UK projects at Furrer+Frey GB spoke on the development of the new overhead system.

Mr Dolphin said: “The electrification of freight terminals is the biggest technological hurdle to net zero rail freight and we have just overcome it.

“The demonstration shows how we can plug freight yards into electrified rail lines and operate them safely and efficiently with the locomotives we already have.

“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.”

This follows on from the recent pilot project which saw a timber freight train run for the first time in 18 years.

John Smith, CEO of GB Railfreight commented on the work being done in the freight sector to combat climate change.

Mr Smith said: “Rail freight is already a greener alternative to moving goods by road.

“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.

“This is a great example of what can be achieved when the industry and government work together effectively.”

The DEFT project is one of 30 initiatives to win a share of the £9m funding from the DfT in partnership with Innovate UK.

Rail Forum Midlands endorsed the DEFT project in 2020 as a viable means of decarbonising UK rail freight.


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