hidden infrastructure gems

UK military site reopened for civilian use

Tracks crossing at Eastriggs montage. Image: © Gary Draisey / Rail Sidings Limited

A former UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) railway yard has been returned to active service. The site is at Eastriggs, on the border between Scotland and England. This new commission is for civilian use under the management of a new company, Rail Sidings Limited, which has taken out a long-term lease on the bulk of the rail infrastructure.

Eastriggs, a former military railway base, has been reactivated after 14 years out of service. However, the site is now in the hands of a civilian operator and has already received engineering traffic supporting the civilian network. The new owners have called the site a “hidden gem” with extensive potential to support economic growth and job creation in the border region between Scotland and England.

Eastriggs was one of the largest munitions factories in the UK

When Gary Draisey left his position as Head of Rail for Kuehne and Nagel to put his years of experience into a new venture, he set his sights on a rail yard just outside the Scottish town of Annan. The yard is located just off the West Coast Main Line (WCML), but it was not the location that sealed the deal. “The place is a real hidden gem,” Gary told RailFreight.com. “It’s not just the location. It was finding such a large yard, in almost perfect condition, despite long years of disuse.”

Image: © OpenRailwayMap / OpenStreetMap.

The site at Eastriggs had been used by the UK Ministry of Defence for almost a century. It was part of a vast ammunition factory in the First World War. A museum nearby recalls the days of the factory, including the munitions trains that frequently departed carrying armaments for the British Navy.

Future regional economic driver

Rail Sidings Limited plans to use Eastriggs for rolling stock storage and maintenance. However, they have longer-term plans that include engineering support and rail freight operations. “Our first train was part of the Network Rail Winter Fleet,” said Gary Draisey. “Colas Rail [who provide fleet support to Network Rail] used our facilities to help store these units in a secure and accessible site to support future winter operations in the north.”

It’s only the beginning at Eastriggs. This engineering train was the first to use the sidings after a decade of disuse. Image: © Gary Draisey / Rail Sidings Limited.

The size of the yard and the available facilities, which comprise extensive sidings, a loco shed, and lengthy platform areas within a very secure site, have already attracted enquiries from local businesses. Gary says there is interest from quarries and aggregates suppliers to use part of the yard as a railhead. In the long term, there could be intermodal traffic too. “The Borderlands is not served by an intermodal facility,” says Gary. “Eastriggs could support businesses on both sides of the border. There is already an economic forum, the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal, as well as the South of Scotland Enterprise team, with whom we work closely. Rail development is on their agenda. We’re well placed to support their ambitions.”

Northern Ireland and Scottish ports could benefit

Business partner Luis Eckersley is based locally and has first-hand experience of operations at Eastriggs. The former MoD civil servant says there are very good reasons for looking at intermodal traffic. ‘We are in the mad situation of seeing intermodal trains head north up the WCML and unloading containers at Mossend near Glasgow, only for road shipment back south to places like Barrow and Carlisle. A rail terminal here would cut hours off that journey, and make the logistics of using rail much cheaper, as well significantly helping the green agenda by removing HGV’s [heavy goods vehicles] from the roads”

Luis also identified the Scottish ports of Cairnryan and Stranraer as potential beneficiaries. “Reopening the closed railway between Dumfries and Stranraer is not viable at the moment. However, transferring Northern Irish goods from road to rail at Eastriggs would radically reduce driver hours, and let local hauliers fit in many more productive shuttle journeys. Early days for the project, but plenty of potential for Rail Sidings Limited.”

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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