Close up of the locomotive end of a train of metals wagons on the quayside at Sunderland

Sunderland steals a record with metals delivery

Not coast to Newcastle, but alloys to Sunderland. This record breaking train, the longest to arrive at the Port of Sunderland, ever, is too long for our short lens Image Port of Sunderland

The Port of Sunderland has been around longer than the railways, but it’s taken three centuries to chalk up a record-breaking load. The arrival of 36 rail wagons loaded with alloy metals marked a 306-year record for the North East of England port on the River Wear. Those eighteenth-century visionaries may have imagined big things for Sunderland in the future. Still, they could not have dreamed of a train, almost 600 metres long, hauling nearly 2,000 tonnes onto the quayside.

The multimodal facility at the Port of Sunderland has wrapped up September operations with the handling of a 585-metre DB Cargo UK freight train. The port authority claims that the 36-wagon consist represents a record, being the longest load to transit the port in its three-century history. For a port used to the demands of heavy industry, the cargo weight, at just under 2,000 tonnes of metals, is more consistent with daily operations. The delivery was, in fact, the latest in an established cargo flow transporting goods to the port on behalf of a client, also in the North East of England.

Promote multi-modal capabilities and efficiencies

Since the 2014 restitution of its operational infrastructure by Network Rail, connecting the Port to the national network, rail freight volumes have steadily re-established themselves. The port admits it has been a slow process, but thanks to increased partnership working between the port, Network Rail, and, in this instance, the freight operating company, DB Cargo UK. Behind this flow has been a collaboration between the parties, providing a significant boost to the port’s multimodal credentials. Work around convincing clients and stakeholders has allowed the port to maximise the advantage of longer and heavy rail consignments.

“Seeing rail freight flows utilising our multimodal facility for regular, scheduled flows is most welcome”, said Matthew Hunt, director at Port of Sunderland. “Since the return of rail cargo to the port, we have worked tirelessly to promote our multi-modal capabilities and demonstrate the sustainable efficiencies in supply chains that working with the port can provide, and this is a marvellous example of this. “It really is industry collaborative working at its best, helping to sustain the supply of a vital feeds stock commodity to one of the Port’s valued customers, creating a real positive economic impact, and we’re proud to be playing a part in helping enable that. Long may it continue.”

Restitution of rail freight truly transformational

It has been almost a decade since the restoration of the rail connection at the port. It’s not the only place where rail freight waits in the wings. The national infrastructure agency, Network Rail, has a whole portfolio of freight facilities in abeyance. It looks at Sunderland as an example of the potential available to interested parties. “We’re delighted to be supporting the Port of Sunderland as we continue to encourage an acceleration to move to rail freight”, said Kevin Newman, senior route freight manager at Network Rail. “Breaking this record is a huge achievement and aligns well with Network Rail’s ambitions to greatly reduce carbon emissions and support the UK Government’s net zero target of 2050.”

Rail freight operators are convinced there is a growing demand for freight companies to run longer and heavier trains. “It makes clear economic and environmental sense”, said Roger Neary, chief sales officer at DB Cargo UK. “As the UK’s largest transporter of metal products, we were proud to play a part in this record-breaking delivery.” The operators at the port are also fully aware of the impact of modal shift. “The restitution of the port’s rail freight operational capacity has been truly transformational”, observed Matthew Hunt. “I am so proud to be a member of a team so focused on the delivery of a strategic plan to diversify our business streams and establish the port as a firm location of choice for self-funding private sector investment, and I am confident that there is yet more to come as we look to the future.”

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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