Freight operations must be considered carefully when planning ahead for the Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade (TRU), Tarmac’s Head of Rail Chris Swan has told Modern Railways.
Mr Swan highlighted the case of Tarmac’s Cross Green terminal in Leeds, one of the company’s busiest rail-fed sites. Trains delivering material to Cross Green access the site via Neville Hill, east of the city, where they run round onto the branch leading to the rail terminal. Almost all material delivered to Cross Green comes in by rail, so a fully functioning, 24/7 accessible line is essential, suggests Mr Swan.
‘TRU is great, and we’d encourage those planning it to remember that this isn’t just a little freight yard – it’s a super busy site’ says Mr Swan. ‘Our operation is reliant on rail – we can’t just revert to road for a period.’ Indeed, Mr Swan says the model at Cross Green, of a city centre site receiving deliveries by rail for distribution locally by road, is one Tarmac has in other cities.
Cross Green receives deliveries of type one limestone from Swinden quarry near Skipton and of stone from Dry Rigg and Arcow quarries on the Settle and Carlisle line. Both flows are operated by GB Railfreight, with typically a daily train from Arcow and Dry Rigg and a couple of trains a day from Swinden. These are supplemented by less frequent stone workings from Tunstead, operated by Freightliner, plus one or two cement trains a week from Dunbar operated by Colas Rail. A major challenge is pathing these trains through Leeds station once they reach the main line.
Cross Green began life as an asphalt plant in 1992 and has grown progressively with the addition of concrete, mortar and cement production facilities, meaning it now produces Tarmac’s full range of construction products. Depending on customer needs, anything between two and four trains a day run to Cross Green (although fewer at weekends), with requirements determined on a weekly basis by Tarmac staff. The site is operational 24 hours a day across 362 days of the year. Distribution by road is mostly within a 30-mile radius of the site.
Mr Swan describes the rail movements as ‘a conveyor belt in the process’ of moving the material from the quarry to completing the finished product. Material arriving at Cross Green is transferred by conveyors to the relevant production facility, with the largely automated processes meaning it is not touched at any point from its departure from the quarry. For example, each train from Swinden carries consistent volumes of materials daily on trains comprising 27 modern construction wagons. This is one of the longest single aggregates trains Tarmac operates; it is unloaded two wagons at a time in a swift process taking around 90 minutes.
Connecting to sites
Tarmac is aiming to copy the city site model at Cross Green for its new Washwood Heath plant in Birmingham. The challenge, says Mr Swan, is ensuring sites either have an existing rail connection or have the potential for one to be provided – and in the case of the latter to make the case for installing one, given the costs and timescales of the new infrastructure required to create a link to the existing network.
While terminals are a challenge, Mr Swan also says there is a need to maximise rail-linked quarries, with many of these across the construction sector being used to their full capability. This raises a similar question for the industry as to how to make the case for rail connections to other sites, which would help drive further modal shift from road to rail.
Mr Swan hopes the current rail reform agenda and the creation of Great British Railways will facilitate more strategic thinking about these issues and the role of rail freight. ‘GBR could help us find better ways to connect sites to the network’ he suggests. ‘The opportunity is huge – we need more facilities. My constant message is that everyone talks about main line capacity, which is obviously important, but we need to think about terminals as well.’