Rail freight London trash is capital cash

Typical bin liner train. Foulger Rail Photos - Flickr

Reducing, reusing, recycling; but still, London throws away a train load of trash every day. That’s either a big problem or a big opportunity. For rail freight, it’s the latter. Five times a week, the waste that previously was London’s landfill, now fills a train instead. It heads west to Bristol, where it’s made into electricity and construction materials.

They may not be the most glamorous trains on the network, but they do provide a service that’s very much indispensable. The household waste trains, affectionately known as ‘binliners’, keep London from disappearing under a mountain of its own making. At the same time, they keep the lights on for 50,000 West Country homes.

Waste into tangible assets

It could be argued that we all could do more to reduce, reuse and recycle. However, we have a long way to go before we reach a zero-waste society. Until that utopia is achieved, we’ll rely on the binliners, taking out our trash, one thousand tonnes at a time, to keep us from wading through an ever-growing pile of detritus.

Not the most glamourous job on the railways, but we’re glad for it all the same. Binliner being loaded Image: © West London Waste.

London does a good job of dealing with its household waste. Some say we could do better, and some say we could certainly do better at keeping the capital clean and tidy. However, the vast majority of Londoners treat their waste responsibly, and that makes it easier for those charged with taking the next step: turning all that waste into tangible assets.

Busy around the clock

West London Waste is an enterprise that handles that task for London’s six westerly boroughs. That’s a population of around two million people who keep two waste transfer stations busy around the clock. Fortunately, both stations are rail connected. That makes the long-distance part of waste transfer a manageable daily task.

Most of London’s waste is recycled locally, such as food and garden waste. However, what used to go to landfill now has a more productive final destination. That journey starts by being compacted into specially designed containers in loads of twelve tonnes each. The containers share characteristics with standard shipping twenty-foot equivalent units, making handling at the transfer stations and on trains a procedure for standard logistics equipment.

Binliners reused and recycled

Binliners have been running from West London to the West of England for eight years. The waste from the 1.6 million residents of Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow, and Richmond-upon-Thames is collated at the two waste transfer stations, in Northolt and Brentford. A single train is marshalled at Brentford for the 110-mile (176-km) journey to the purpose-built Suez Severnside Energy Recovery Facility in Avonmouth near Bristol.

Once in the West Country, it meets a fiery end, More than 300,000 tonnes of waste is transported every year and used in the high-tech furnaces to generate about 34 megawatts of power. That’s enough to power 50,000 homes. The contract between Suez and West London Waste runs until the end of the next decade. The binliners may not be reduced, but they will be reused and recycled for many years to come. It’s a bin-win-win, thanks to rail freight.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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