Portrait of GBRf chief executive John Smith

75 ‘intermodals’ a day as ambitious GBRf expands operations

Portrait of GBRf chief executive John Smith (Shan Liu)Image by Shan Liu

GB Railfreight is bringing more of its maintenance operations to Peterborough, adjacent to the company’s existing administration and training centre. A new depot is to be built, as part of a multi-million pound investment by the company. The facility will be located on the East Coast Main Line, which is becoming increasingly important to rail freight operations in the UK. The line is currently the focus of a huge investment in capacity enhancement.

GBRf, which operates rail freight services throughout Great Britain, has committed to an investment of 4.7 million pounds (5.6 million euro) into its new maintenance depot in Peterborough. The company which employs over one thousand staff, has been progressively investing in its operational base alongside the East Coast Main Line. The new depot is part of a strategy that intends to see the company haul up to seventy-five intermodal services a day by 2025, many of them on the digitally enhanced ECML.

Twenty permanent jobs

The new depot, which is being built by specialists Cairn Cross Engineering, will create around 60 construction jobs in the Peterborough area of Cambridgeshire, about an hour north of London. Twenty permanent jobs will be based there, when the project completes next Summer (2024). The company says this continues their investment in Peterborough and eastern England, following the commissioning of its new three-million pound (3.6 million euro) Peterborough HQ last year.

Class 66 locomotive at the head of an intermodal train at Felixstowe
GBRf has ambitious plans for intermodal expansion, which will be supported by the new maintenance hub at Peterborough, keeping workings like this one from Felixstowe on the move. GBRf image

The depot construction project began with a formal ground breaking event, which took place at the GBRf House, Peterborough – the distinctive building which has become a landmark alongside the main line. The leader of the local authority, Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald from Peterborough City Council was a guest of John Smith, the chief executive officer of GB Railfreight, and Phil Williamson, the managing director of the main contractors on the project, Cairn Cross Engineering.

Hi-tech and seventy-five trains a day

While the East Coast Main line is being upgraded, with digital technology that will significantly enhance capacity, the GBRf depot will also be a hi-tech affair. The state-of-art maintenance hub will play a vital role in GBRf’s safety and reliability drive across its wagon fleet. The facility will use smart sensor technology to quickly analyse wagon conditions and identify faults much earlier, quickly and accurately.

Efficient maintenance performance is vital if GBRf is to realise its ambitions to ramp up intermodal operations. The new Peterborough maintenance hub will support growth plans for a schedule of seventy-five intermodal services a day by 2025. The upgrade of the adjacent East Coast Main Line will allow more fast freight to join the intensive mixed-traffic operations on the line.

New generation of talent

“We are delighted to be strengthening our presence in Peterborough with the construction of our new maintenance hub”, says John Smith of GB Railfreight. “Peterborough was a natural choice of location following the opening of our headquarters, GBRf House, here last year. The city is also one of the most important points on the East Coast Main Line. The hub will provide the local community with new opportunities through high quality jobs and training schemes. This in turn will help bring through a new generation of talent in the rail freight industry, which will be vital to delivering the sector’s continued success.”

Drone shot of New England House, the headquarters of GBRf at Peterborough
Blue sky thinking. GBRf has hatched ambitious plans for expansion within the walls of their prestigious headquarters in Peterborough (GBRf image)

Speaking of the contribution rail freight makes to the regional economy, Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald welcomed the investment. “[This] will create many new jobs for our residents and improve the flow of goods on the city’s rail line. It also proves once again that Peterborough is the ideal place for investment”, he was obliged to add. Seriously though, the council leaders sentiments are reflected in a solid base of operations, established by GBRf, and a confidence in growth, despite the gloomy short-term economic outlook. However, the timescale of the rail freight industry suggests that the Peterborough project will be a long-term winner for all concerned.

Significantly improve rail freight efficiency

Although the south east of England, of which Peterborough represents the northern edge, has not suffered anything like the rest of the UK, the project is welcomed by the local construction industry. “Cairn Cross is delighted to have secured this project in partnership with GBRf at the Peterborough maintenance hub”, said Phil Williamson, the managing director of Cairn Cross Engineering, and those sixty construction jobs will almost all go to local professionals.

Cairn Cross are already well established in the sector, with a reputation for environmentally considerate construction and maintenance of turnkey rail infrastructure projects.“The project will significantly improve the efficiency of rail freight maintenance in Eastern England”, added Williamson.

Portrait of John Smith by Shan Liu at Almond Bank Communications.

**UK businesses can soon share their stories in a full-colour digital magazine tailored to the UK rail industry. The RailFreight UK Christmas Special will be published on 15 December. Details, including how to take part, can be found here.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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