From South Waste London to South Waste England

Household waste from the UK capital is going to a specialist plant near Bristol for processing into energy to feed the national electricity grid. The project is made possible through rail freight industry collaboration and organisation.

Enough renewable energy to power 50,000 homes; that is the promise from a collaboration between Network Rail, DB Cargo UK, the Severnside Energy Recovery Facility in Avonmouth near Bristol, and a whole family of south west London boroughs.

Six days a week Binliners

The waste from 1.6 million residents of Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow and Richmond-upon-Thames is carried 110 miles (176 km) from waste transfer stations in Northolt and Brentford to the Severnside Energy Recovery Facility in Avonmouth, six days a week. Waste recycling workings will probably be the designation in the timetables. Everyone knows them as the Binliners.

Put your rail-conveyed waste in the beige bins (Network Rail)

More than 300,000 tonnes of waste is transported every year and used to generate about 34 megawatts of power, which is enough to power 50,000 homes. Going by train, there are fewer lorries on the road, and less waste in the ground. All that though only happens, thanks to a collaborative effort between local authorities, train and track operators, and the recycling specialists. It helps too that those London residents have a good grasp of their multi-coloured bin codes as well.

London clean and tidy

All the partners have emphasised how important the service is during the pandemic lockdown. Efficient waste handling is helping keep London clean tidy, and, importantly, free from the added health concerns that rubbish can cause. not to mention – it is good for the environment and the planet too.

“We are committed to tackling the climate emergency”, says Graham Henson, the leader of Harrow Council, one of the London boroughs involved in the scheme. “How your waste is disposed of is more powerful than you think. Moving by rail reduces emissions. The Severnside Energy Recovery Facility significantly reduces landfill and it keeps thousands of households going during the pandemic. We are pleased to be doing our bit to help keep this service running because it is more important than ever to continue to do our bit for the planet.”

Workmanlike suburb

The brand new Severnside Energy Recovery Facility is operated by Suez Environmental. Avonmouth may be fairly described as one of Bristol’s more workmanlike suburbs, but a brief look at satellite mapping will show one or two trains in attendance at the facility’s purpose-built sidings. Look closely and you may even see a bright red DB Cargo locomotive in attendance.

“During the pandemic we are doing all we can to keep vital services running”, says Stephen Wallbank, who is the responsible senior freight manager for Network Rail. “Transporting waste from London to Avonmouth prevents it from going to landfill and helps to create enough renewable energy to power 50,000 homes. Our rail workers are doing a vital job in challenging circumstances. They are keeping the railway open for critical freight supplies”.

The real bin men

Working in partnership and behind the scenes, the SUEZ recycling and recovery UK team – the guys behind the operations in Avonmouth, take a back seat in the operation. “We’re all ensuring people’s bins are emptied and that the lights stay on despite the current challenging conditions”, they said. “Our teams are doing an exceptional job which deserves much praise.”

The business end of the process in London are the waste transfer stations in Northolt and Brentford. These are operated by the West London Waste Authority. That’s where the initial handling goes on, and that is where the trains meet the raw materials for the first time.

A rubbish train. DB Cargo UK have been taking trash to Avonmouth for a while now. A working from Southall heading for the south west (Network Rail)

“We are extremely proud to continue supporting SUEZ  by transporting household waste”, says DB Cargo UK head of industrial sales, Andrew Sumner, whose company collects from London, and also Merseyside and Cheshire, to help make energy from waste. “The plants use waste for the production of renewable energy to help power homes and businesses in the UK”, he says. “The need to remove waste and generate power in an environmentally friendly manner could not be more critical during these difficult times and our front-line staff are working hard to ensure the trains continue to operate”.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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