The Anonymous Widower

Thoughts On The Design Of A High Speed Freight Shuttle

I am enthusiastic about the concept proposed by Rail Operations Group, that will see Class 769 trains running freight shuttles between London Gateway and Liverpool Street station, which I wrote about in A Freight Shuttle For Liverpool Street Station Planned.

But if you were starting from scratch, how would you design the ultimate freight shuttle train?

Consider these objectives.

The Amazon Objective

Amazon and their suppliers would like next day delivery for all of their customers.

Probably within a country the size of the UK, next day delivery can be achieved.

But I suspect that Amazon and their competitors would like anybody in the world to get as near as next day delivery as possible from anywhere in the world.

Giving worldwide next day delivery is obviously impossible, but giving it to as much of the world as is currently practical is clearly an Amazon objective.

We live in a I-Want-It-Now world!

Destinations To Be Served

I feel that places to be served by high speed light freight shuttles fall into various groups.

Major Cities

The proposed shuttle into Liverpool Street station will be the first of many.

Liverpool Street station is also an easy station at which to run such a service.

  • There is level access from the street for vehicles like electric vans and cargo bikes at Platform 10, using the old taxi cab road.
  • The station and the approaches are fully electrified.
  • Crossrail will release platform space at the station.

Three trains per day can probably be accommodated in the Off Peak hours, with more services during the night.

It would not be possible to fit a light freight facility into all city-centre stations, as easily as it appears to be at Liverpool Street.

But I do think light freight facilities of this type at the following stations could be possible..

  • Brighton
  • Bristol Temple Meads
  • Glasgow Central
  • Liverpool Lime Street
  • London Euston
  • London Paddington
  • Manchester Piccadilly
  • Nottingham

Some recently rebuilt stations like Birmingham New Street, would be very difficult, so I would recommend that all station developments, should take possible light freight facilities into account.

Logistics Parks, Ports And Airports

London Gateway is a large port and logistics facility, to the East of London.

This Google Map shows London Gateway.

The logistics park is still being developed to the North of the port, with the rail lines in between the two.

  • I have searched the rail lines and I can’t see anything like a loading bay for a freight shuttle, which surely will be something like a platform for passengers.
  • It is early days yet and this map could be a couple of years old.
  • There would also be space to the North of the rail lines for someone like Hermes, UPS or Yodel to build a large secure shed with a siding alongside, served by a platform, so that goods could be rolled into the trains.
  • It should be possible to electrify the siding, in a similar way to Platform 10 at Liverpool Street station.

It’ll all come clear, when the service starts.

Other ports like Felixstowe, Immingham, Liverpool and Southampton might also want to develop high speed light freight services as will the various logistics parks and freight terminals dotted around the country.

Most are served by rail connections, although in many cases like Felixstowe, London Gateway, Liverpool and Southampton, the last few miles need to use some form of independent power.

Could these light freight services connect to airports like Heathrow, Manchester and Stansted?

Retail Parks And Out-Of-Town Shopping Centres

Large retail groups, like Marks and Spencer, Sainsburys and Tesco have set up large distribution centres often in the centre of England, some of which have rail access.

Could major retail centres like Lakeside in Essex, Sheffield Meadowhill, Gateshead Metro Centre and others receive goods by rail.

Specialist Terminals

If you go to Montrose station, you can see the remains of sidings, where Scottish fish was loaded to be taken by rail to ports for export to places like New York.

But it is likely that specialist terminals will be setup to handle goods, such as seafood, flowers and Scotch whisky.

Some seasonal products like Cornish flowers would only need a part-time facility, but these would only be rudimentary.

Long Rural Routes

I can see the requirement for light freight deliveries increasing in all parts of the UK.

Some destinations are probably expensive for delivery companies.

But could an integrated delivery system be setup using the long rural rail routes.

  • Inverness and Wick
  • Inverness and Aberdeen
  • Glasow and Oban
  • Chester and Holyhead
  • Settle and Carlisle

Services might automatically roll pallets off and on at stations, which would then be handled locally by a purpose-built van or light truck.

  • Some services would start in London and the South-East, but others could start in the East Midlands or the Scotland’s Central Belt
  • Some services would connect with ferries to serve islands, like the Hebrides and the Orkneys.
  • A daily service might do wonders for business in rural areas.

London and Wick takes thirteen hours by passenger train. This would enable, somebody in Wick wanting an urgent part for a machine that has broken, to order it from London and certainly receive it within forty-eight hours.

Great Britain And Ireland Services

Services between Great Britain and Ireland will be a problem, as trains will have to unload on one side of the Irish sea onto trucks for delivery after the sea crossing.

Unless politicians do what I suggest in A Solution To The Northern Irish Problem!, which is to build a high speed rail system connecting Scotland and Northern Ireland.

  • The main crossing would be a bridge or a tunnel, where my preference would be for a bridge.
  • The main route would be Glasgow and Dublin via Stranraer and Belfast.
  • There would be a 125 mph connection between Carlisle and Stranraer
  • The Irish section of the route would be an electrified standard-gauge railway capable of running trains at 125 mph.
  • The route would handle passengers and freight.
  • There could a branch to Shannon, where some proposals have been made to create a deep water port.

I estimated that London and Belfast would take four hours, with an hour longer for Dublin.

But as this fixed link would probably not be built this century, as Ulster always says no, unloading on to trucks would probably be necessary for a long time.

Continental Services

Why not? Unlike Ireland, there’s a rail connection and it’s standard gauge!

Eurostar has shown that the same trains can run successfully on British, French, Belgian and Dutch railways and trains can now be fitted with systems to access the various electrification voltages.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Europe-wide high-speed light freight service for appropriate cargoes.

Summing Up Destinations

I can sum up the destinations as follows.

  • They will not be large grand affairs, in many cases.
  • There must be easy access for local transport, which will include a proportion of electric vehicles.
  • Destinations are generally within a few miles of an electrified main line.
  • Some services like Cornish flowers or Scottish seafood will need an independently-powered train, with a moderate range.

You can see why Rail Operations Group have chosen to use bi-mode Class 769 trains, as they will be ideal to connect to places perhaps a hundred miles from electrification.

New Or Refurbished Trains?

The proposed service is to be run with a Class 769 train, which is a bi-mode rebuild of a 1980s Class 319 train.

But would it be better to use a brand new train, rather than an old conversion?

In the future, if the experiment is a success, a new train will probably be designed, that will be based on the experience of the trials.

But at the moment modifying an old train, is probably a more affordable approach and one that carries less risk.

Operating Speed

The Class 769 train can operate at 100 mph on electrified lines and at around 90 mph, when relying on the diesel generators.

In High Speed Urban Freight Logistics By Rail, I talked about Rail Operations Group’s plans for running high speed freight services between Thames Gateway and the Central Belt in Scotland.

Surely, a faster train would be desirable for services along high speed lines.

Train Capacity And Interior

This will depend on the application and I suspect Rail Operation Group’s trial will show the optimum design.

But I wouldn’t be surprised to see trains based on British Rail’s standard length of eighty metres, as this would mean, they will easily fit so many existing stations without expensive modification.

If longer trains are needed for busy routes, then the trains could work in twos or threes, as many British Rail electric multiple units have done for decades.

Are Freight Shuttles Ideal Trains For Battery Power?

The train will not need the full air-conditioning and toilet services of a passenger train, which could mean.

  • Electrical power needed for services other than traction would be lower.
  • Underneath the train could be relatively free of equipment.

In addition, it should be noted.

  • Most routes will be run for the major part on electrified lines.
  • Charging technology for batteries at remote destinations could be easily provided.
  • Battery-electric trains have operational, environmental and marketing advantages over trains with diesel engines.

So why not efficiently fill space under the train with batteries?

For their initial service between London Gateway and Liverpool Street station, Rail Operations Group would probably only need to use diesel for less than a dozen miles.

Could Modified InterCity 125 Trains Be Used?

The fact that they are diesel is a major drawback, but there are other problems too!

  • Major structural work would be needed to create cargo doors.
  • I suspect that they may be too long.
  • They may not be very operator friendly.

Other companies have proposed them for high speed freight, but nothing has materialised so far.

Conclusion

Rail Operation Group’s thinking is spot on!

 

 

November 4, 2019 - Posted by | Transport | , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Long rural routes would definitely benefit from some sort of automatic loading/unloading of pallets/rollcages (into unattended secure storage area), to allow driver only operations on the train.

    Fortunately, the technology exists (automatic pallet movers) and is largely proven (and electric). The automatic pallet mover would probably need to travel on the train rather than be provided at each station, as the equipment is fairly expensive and might not get good utilisation at quiet depots. The train would have charging equipment, and specialist freight wagons to facilitate rapid loading/unloading.

    At the rural depot, people could stack or unstack pallets/rollcages onto/off local trucks (using manual roller belts/boom arms), or a manual or power assisted pallet truck could be used to handle loaded pallets/rollcages onto vehicles, for various customers. Certainly would be good places for local parcel depots (cf Hermes/Yodel model, in effect recreating railway parcel services with local delivery for the first/last mile).

    Comment by MilesT | December 2, 2019 | Reply

    • I’ve just updated this post with a map of the London Gateway. I think it’s possible to create a very efficient terminal at the port.

      Comment by AnonW | December 2, 2019 | Reply


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