Freight train on the Boulby Mine branch at cliffs near Saltburn with the sea in background

UK Freightliner has a fertile relationship with potash producer

Up to eight workings a day use the Boulby line. One of those potash trains at the scenic Warsett Hill between Saltburn and Boulby - imaged by Ed Wilson, Commercial Director - Heavy Haul at Freightliner Group Ltdimaged by Ed Wilson, Commercial Director - Heavy Haul at Freightliner Group Ltd

Freightliner Heavy Haul, the bulk loads division of the well-known UK operator, part of the Genesee and Wyoming corporation, has been celebrating its reinvigorated contract with ICL Group, one of the world’s largest fertiliser producers. The contract involves the transportation of between five and eight trains a day from ICL’s Boulby quarry to Tees Dock in the North East of England. The product is the raw material that makes the UK a leading fertiliser producer, and helps underwrite UK food production.

Freightliner Heavy Haul has been hauling potash since 2007 and offers a fast, secure, and cost-effective service. The freight operator works in close partnership with the ICL subsidiary, Cleveland Potash, hauling potash and salt from Boulby Mine to Tees Dock on behalf of third-party logistics agent, Cobra Rail-freight. The contract provides for the movement of over 1.5 million tonnes of potash and salt annually.

Longest freight-only branch line

Freightliner Heavy Haul has been ramping up operations, and will be transporting organic fertiliser, specifically polyhalite, from ICL Group’s Boulby quarry to Tees Dock. The operation is of great importance to the industrial economy of Teesside and the North East of England. Moving bulk loads by rail freight through the Yorkshire countryside is a sustainable and efficient way to transport the vast tonnages required, reducing road congestion, lowering carbon emissions, and minimising the impact on the environment.

Special passenger train with thirteen carriages on the clifftop line near Boulby Mine in Yorkshire
The Boulby line is not currently under consideration for reopening to passenger traffic, but there is the occasional special train, and given the scenery it’s easy to see why (image Stephen-Morris – ICL)

The mine is served by a dedicated branch, which diverges from the passenger line serving Redcar and Saltburn, nearby its seaside terminus. It winds through the Yorkshire countryside for some twelve miles (around 20 km). There are several communities along the route, which make the line an attractive proposition for reintroducing passenger services, although not among those in the North East currently sanctioned in the government sponsored programme of reopenings. Meanwhile, it remains one of the longest freight-only branch lines in Britain.

Important to feeding the nation

Britain is particularly susceptible to disruption in the food supply chain. The UK has always been reliant on a healthy agricultural harvest to keep the population fed. Given the current global circumstances, the operation has significance for more than just the importance it plays in supporting the regional economy. There are difficulties faced by the UK agricultural and food sectors, with supply chain and import disruptions caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Domestic fertiliser sources, such as the organic fertiliser transported here by Freightliner Heavy Haul, are essential for ensuring the continuity of the UK’s food production and the stability of the agricultural sector.

A general view of the mine at Boulby, sitting in the Yorkshire countryside
A general view of the mine at Boulby, sitting in the Yorkshire countryside

“At Freightliner Heavy Haul, we treat every load as if it were our own, and every journey as a golden opportunity to keep UK businesses and every fabric of our infrastructure on track”, said a spokesperson for Freightliner. “We develop services that fit exact customer needs, using the best equipment and ensuring the most cost-effective solution. Our regular services [such as those at Boulby], as part of an intensive train plan, are critical to move required volumes and maintain the integrity of the supply chain.”

The reinvigorated contract between Freightliner Heavy Haul and ICL Group underscores the importance of rail freight and logistics in supporting sustainable and resilient supply chains and ensuring the stability of the UK’s agricultural sector.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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