The Anonymous Widower

Timber Freight Train Runs For First Time In 18 Years

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Rail Technology Magazine.

These are the first two paragraphs.

Network Rail has partnered with Colas Rail in a pilot project to run a timber freight train for the first time in 18 years.

A sawmill in Abergavenny has received the first rail-transported timber since 2004 which was transported 92 miles from Hackney Yard near Newton Abbot.

I do wonder how many other specialised freight trains like these could be run.

As it was only 320 tonnes on eight wagons, it was probably hauled by a diesel Class 66 or Class 70 locomotive.

If there were hydrogen-powered locomotives available, would this encourage more companies to switch from road to rail.

It also appears that for this movement, Network Rail had strengthened a bridge. Are there enough yards, where heavy trucks can access the railway?

Timber Imports

With the situation in Ukraine, I wondered if we imported any timber from Russia, that could perhaps be replaced by locally-grown timber.

I found this page on the Forest Research web site from the UK Government, which is entitled Origin Of Wood Imports.

Our biggest timber imports from Russia are wood pellets and plywood.

Wood pellets are an obvious import, as we also import large amounts from the United States and Canada and all three countries have extensive forests and I suspect they all produce large amounts of woody waste, that is only suitable for making into pellets.

Are we recycling scrap wood and woody waste, as best we can in the UK or are we just burning it on bonfires? The guy opposite lost a tree in the recent storms and a tree surgeon came with a special truck and a shredder to reduce it to small pieces of woody waste. Did that go to make pellets for Drax and other boilers that burn them?

It strikes me, that there may be opportunities For creating or enlarging our own wood pellet industry to cut imports.

Plywood comes mainly from China (37 %), Brazil (18 %), Finland (9 %) and Russia (8 %). Of these, I suspect only one has good environmental standards.

As this softwood plywood for lower-grade applications only needs wood from trees, that we can grow in this country, perhaps we should make a lot more in automated plants.

I’m sure Network Rail would be happy to arrange the transport.

February 25, 2022 - Posted by | Energy, Hydrogen, Transport/Travel | , , , , ,


  1. See also in Scotland:

    Comment by Ian Budd | February 25, 2022 | Reply

  2. Hello,

    The article states “The Colas Rail train carried a total of 320 tonnes of timber in eight wagons.”


    Comment by chilterntrev | February 25, 2022 | Reply

  3. I was just commenting to the original post but fortunately saw your remarks. Yes it’s all borne out by Network Rail’s press release.

    Comment by fammorris | February 25, 2022 | Reply

  4. I wonder if such a load could be handled by a battery locomotive, or, if regular, a specialised multiple unit (with traction motors on each wagon-battery or diesel)

    If a dedicated multiple unit, maybe possible to be converted from old passenger EMU stock (driver cab with h2 or diesel genset or battery, 8 x freight, driving trailer or cab with h2/diesel battery, or some permutation of h2/battery/diesel genset for flexibility). I think unprocessed timber will cube out before tare out so the freight wagons might not need as strong a wagon as a general purpose flat bed or wagon for a shipping container, hence a conversion, or maybe just reusing bultiple unit bogies under a stronger wagon.

    And no, not a solution based on Parallel System’s proposed self contained battery traction bogies with timber self supported unless it was a shorter closed loop system (although I think some North American timber lorries are self-supporting so it is feasible but probably not reliably safe in a rail context).

    Comment by MilesT | February 25, 2022 | Reply

    • I suspect Wabtec’s battery locomotives as they have built in the States, paired with an existing diesel could probably move a sensible load. I can see Wabtec proposing turning some Class 66 locomotives into battery-electric locomotives by replacing the diesel with batteries and using the same traction motors. It would probably cut upwards of 33 % of carbon emissions and be geofenced so it would run through stations on batteries.

      I suspect, they’re doing the maths now. It would be cheaper than buying new and I suspect they could fit a pantograph for charging.

      Comment by AnonW | February 25, 2022 | Reply

      • I suspect Wabtec will also start building non-driving “slugs” as well which could extend the range/tractive power

        in US railroading, a “slug” is an additional engine with no cab and no diesel motor, just traction motors powered by the head unit and ballast–which in this case could be extra battery, or even a hybrid solution with a battery slug connected to a diesel head unit to recharge the battery/add extra kw, and pair running on battery power only for parts of the journey

        Comment by MilesT | February 25, 2022

    • I don’t know about hauling the 320 tonnes (rather than the 32 tonnes in the original post) and mentioned in the Network Rail press release, but for smaller loads back in the late 1990s Windhoff produced the Freight Multiple Unit or FMU. It was based on power packs consisting of MTU? engines and ZF transmissions. Railtrack ended up ordering a number of derivatives of these Multiple Units which Network Rail still use today.
      Also in 2005, I think it was the Welsh Timber Transport Group that trialled these trains to haul lumber. What happened I don’t know.
      On that basis a hybrid drive line of some kind could be installed together with the use of a HVO fuel.
      For the heavier loads a sensible locomotive would come out of the Type 5 designation, such as a Class 50 or 56 – you may even get away with a Class 37, with its better Route Availability. These locos are ancient, it’s a pity we have nothing newer.

      Comment by fammorris | February 25, 2022 | Reply

      • The 32 was my typo. Now corrected!

        Comment by AnonW | February 26, 2022

  5. It would be a cheaper route, than buying new locomotives.

    Comment by AnonW | February 25, 2022 | Reply

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