Head on shot of aggregates train being loaded by mechanical shovel with Industrial buildings in the background

Rail removes one million tonnes of spoil for HS2

Digging the dirt on HS2. Another spoil train loads up for departure from Willesden in north west London Image HS2 media centre

Rail freight partners at HS2, Britain’s high speed rail project, have lifted one million tonnes of spoil from its London rail logistics hub. That effort represents one fifth of the total tonnage anticipated throughout the lifespan of the terminal. The Logistics Hub, managed by HS2’s London Tunnels Contractor, Skanska Costain STRABAG Joint Venture (SCS JV), transports excavated material from the three large construction sites at Old Oak Common Station, the Victoria Road Crossover Box in Ealing, and the nearby Atlas Road site.

Operations at the HS2 London Logistics Hub, located at the Willesden Euro Terminal in the north west of the city, have so far taken the equivalent of 110,000 lorry movements off roads. Over the course of the HS2 project, the Logistics Hub will transfer and transport over five million tonnes of spoil. At its peak of operations, seven trains per day will depart from the Hub, up from three per day departing at present. Each train takes 1,500 tonnes of material – the equivalent of 80 lorry loads.

3Squared develop technology

Moving around the roads of west London has not been an option for the contractors. Instead, the prodigious quantities of tunnelling spoil, unearthed by the fleet of HS2 tunnel boring machines, is brought to the site on a 1.7 mile long (2.7 km) network of conveyors. The operation at Willesden sees the material being transferred onto waiting trains, which are then taken to sites in Kent, Rugby and Cambridgeshire, where the material is being re-used for a number of projects, including a nature reserve for birds.

The enormous logistics operation is managed inside the site’s hi-tech control room. The operations team can see how much spoil is on site, and they can monitor the loading into the wagons, to help ensure that the operation meets the railway timetable. SCS JV worked collaboratively with Sheffield based specialists in rail technology, 3Squared, to develop the software being used for rail logistics.

Temporary terminus

The Logistics Hub not only manages materials leaving HS2 sites but will also begin managing the delivery of 100,000 tunnel segment rings which STRABAG are due to begin producing at their new facility in Hartlepool in the north of England. Like the spoil, the segments will be transported using rail, rather than local roads. Combined with the removal of spoil, HS2 estimates that the London Logistics Hub operations will remove the need for one million lorry journeys over the duration of the HS2 project.

End of the HS2 conveyor delivers a huge stream of earth to a growing pile, ready for trains to take away
Spoiler alert: HS2 tunnelling operations have already dug out a million tonnes of earthworks underneath London

The UK government recently extended the construction timetable for HS2, in a widely questioned measure to reduce the costs of the high speed railway project. They also pressed pause on the construction of the central London terminal at Euston, which means the line will at least temporarily terminate at Old Oak Common. That decision has had only marginal effect on operations at Willesden. The millionth tonne of material was despatched to Cliffe in Kent on 23 June 2023, with an on-time train from an on schedule construction site. However, HS2 remains many years away from dispatching its high-speed trains to Birmingham and beyond. That wasn’t mentioned on the day – no one wanted to “spoil” the celebrations.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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