UK: DEFT Freight Terminal Electrification Project Begins Trial

A competition-winning idea to support the decarbonisation of rail is currently being trialled at a rail freight terminal in Northamptonshire.

UK first rail freight electrification trial boosts industry net zero ambitions
UK first rail freight electrification trial boosts industry net zero ambitions

The Decarbonisation and Electrification of Freight Terminals (DEFT) project is one of 30 ground-breaking initiatives to win a share of 9 million GBP (10.65m euros | 11.8m USD) in Department for Transport and Innovate UK funding via the First Of A Kind competition.

Freight trains are typically loaded and unloaded from above, preventing the use of the high-voltage overhead cables used on mainline railways.

As such, they still rely on diesel to move in and out of terminals and passengers can be held up by slower diesel freight trains on mainlines – or those waiting to be moved into a depot by a shunter.

However, Furrer+Frey engineers have designed a new moveable overhead conductor system where overhead equipment supplying electricity to the locomotives can safely move away once the train is in place and return when the train needs to move again.

This is based on a similar system for passenger train depots, which has been installed at the Temple Mills Eurostar depot, for example.  However, no such system has been successfully developed for the distinct needs of rail freight until now.

The new system is currently being trialled at a Tarmac aggregate facility in Wellingborough in partnership with GB Railfreight. If successful, it could go on to be deployed at other freight terminals across the UK.

This will bring the rail industry a step closer to achieving the government’s goal of removing all diesel-only trains from the UK network by 2040.

Noel Dolphin, Head of UK Projects at Furrer+Frey GB, said:

“The electrification of freight terminals is the biggest technological hurdle to net zero rail freight and we have just overcome it.

“The demonstrator shows how we can plug freight yards into electrified rail lines and operate them safely and efficiently with the locomotives we already have – meaning greener, cleaner and better journeys.

“This moveable conductor system means trains pull in on electricity, disconnect from it to safely load and unload, then reconnect to travel on.”

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