DRS opens up new all-electric freight route from Daventry to Glasgow via the ECML

DRS Class 88 locomotive 88010 'Aurora' hauls a freight train on the East Coast main line - May 2020.

Direct Rail Services (DRS) has opened up a new electrified freight route between Daventry International Railfreight Terminal (DIRFT) and Mossend Yard, Motherwell, near Glasgow.

This allowed the use of one of the company’s Class 88 electric locomotives on freight trains from Daventry to Mossend and back via the East Coast main line (ECML).

Normally, these trains would use the West Coast main line, but engineering work required that a diversionary route be used, and the traditional diversionary route was also undergoing work, so a third option was sought.

In the past, that would mean a Class 66 or Class 68 diesel locomotive would have been used to haul the train across country on non-electrified lines. Although these locomotives are the workhorses of the rail freight network and do sterling work, they are not as ‘clean and green’ as electric locos.

The diesel alternative, DRS Class 68 number 68023 ‘Achilles’.

Using a lot of initiative, and some lateral thinking, DRS’ planning team decided to go south in order to go north and came up with a route that, although longer, is electrified the whole way:

  • Daventry DIRFT
  • Northampton
  • Milton Keynes
  • Watford
  • Wembley
  • Primrose Hill
  • Camden Road
  • Camden Incline
  • Finsbury Park
  • Hertford Loop
  • Stevenage
  • Peterborough
  • Newark
  • Doncaster
  • York
  • Newcastle
  • Berwick
  • Millerhill
  • Edinburgh Waverley
  • Shotts
  • Mossend Yard

Two trains, 4Z45 Daventry – Mossend and 4Z82 Mossend – Daventry, were thus able to run as an all-electric freight service on the ECML for the first time.

DRS Class 88 locomotive 88004 ‘Pandora’.

Five more such services are planned, on 24/25 May 2020. However, four of the five will run with a Class 68 diesel loco behind the Class 88 as, between Chathill, near Alnwick, Northumberland, and Edinburgh, although the line is electrified, the electrical supply is only sufficient to power a certain number of trains. Any additional services therefore have to use diesel power.

This will result in an electrified freight train having to haul a 130-tonne diesel locomotive, adding to the weight of the train, the power consumption and wear on the track, because the electrified line into Scotland doesn’t have a large enough power supply.

The East Coast main line power supply upgrade programme is addressing this issue, but phase 2, from Bawtry (Doncaster) to Edinburgh, won’t be complete for some time.

However, the line is electrified the whole way, despite the shortcomings of the power supply, and three of the seven freight trains were able to take full advantage of that.

David Robinson, Direct Rail Services.

DRS deputy director of operations delivery David Robinson said: “This is a fantastic new route which enables us to utilise our excellent Class 88 locomotives as usual, rather than replacing them with a diesel-powered engine.  

“Each freight train takes around 76 lorries off our roads and running on electricity allows the engines to be much more environmentally friendly and helps with our commitment to reduce CO₂ emissions.

“We’re delivering vital goods across the length of Britain and this, over 400-mile, journey highlights the benefit of rail freight and the smart use of utilising our electrified rail network.”

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