GB Railfreight to supply for building boom in London

GB Railfreight and Cemex have been in successful trials of new bulk flow from a Derbyshire quarry to serve projects in Crawley, near Gatwick Airport on the south side of London. Plans are in hand for a regular run to commence in the near future.

Dove Holes quarry in Derbyshire, on the edge of the Peak District National Park, is a significant source of building materials for major projects all over the UK. With something of a building boom underway in and around London and the South East, there is high demand for aggregates and products from the quarry.

High volume bulk loads

Operators of the quarry, building materials supply specialists Cemex, have contracted with GB Railfreight (GBRf) to move a high volume of bulk materials by rail from the site. This new flow, heading for Crawley, near Gatwick Airport on the south side of London, represents a new collaboration between the two companies. A trial run conducted in April proved successful, and operations would be underway already, were it not for the pause brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

John Smith, who is the managing director of GBRf, is understandably pleased with the progress. “We are delighted to unveil this new route in partnership with Cemex. We have a longstanding relationship and the new service, which is expected to run once a week once operations are back to normal is testament to the successful partnership we have forged”, he said.

Record rolling weight

In technical terms, the routing is new for GBRf, but the consist and cargo are both familiar. The rake of aggregate hoppers allocated to the work have been repurposed from coal hoppers, and are seeing extended life in their new role. 

Dove Holes village in Derbyshire showing Cemex quarry (Dave Dunford Wikicommons)

The 22-wagon trial train, weighed in at just over 1,675 tonnes, exceeding previous deliveries to Crawley by approximately 350 tonnes. Once business as usual has resumed, the new service between Dove Holes and Crawley is expected to run once a week.

Direct line opening proposals 

In common with other freight operations from neighbouring facilities, all traffic has to run north, towards the city of Sheffield, even though demand for much of the quarry products comes from the south of England. Campaigners are seeking to reopen the former main line, which ran south, serving communities in the Peak District, and on towards Derby, Leicester and London, offering a more direct route for freight, passenger and heritage traffic. 

Campaigners seek to reopen a direct route south from the quarries to serve communities locally and industry around the UK, and traversing some outstanding scenery, such as Headstone viaduct over the River Wye (image courtesy of Colin Boocock, C.Eng., F.I.Mech.E.)

Stephen Chaytow of Manchester and East Midlands Rail Action Partnership, says that quarry and freight operators would stand to benefit from a more direct connection with their markets. “Our aim is to ensure that there is sufficient capacity built in to the reinstated main line through the region. The former Peak and Dales line served mixed traffic in the past, and there is an obvious need to do so again.”

Mileage, fuel and emissions savings

Freight stakeholders have had concerns that a reinstated passenger service would impact on freight capacity, but the campaigners say they are working to make sure any improvements are fit for purpose. “With built-in capacity and appropriate future proofing,” says Chaytow, “the reinstated double-track line would give south-bound freight operations significant performance, mileage, and emissions savings, all of which are both environmentally and commercially advantageous.”

Also looking to the future, David Hart, Cemex UK supply chain director, said the rail network is an important way for his company to transport materials around the country to where they are needed. “The addition of this new route allows us to better serve our customers, while the increased capacity offers further sustainability benefits by taking trucks off the road and reducing congestion”, he said. “We are pleased to partner with GBRf on this new service as they share our commitment to a safe and reliable operation.”

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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