Britain's most powerful train on track

FELIXSTOWE: It's probably every young boy's dream … and maybe those not so young!

FELIXSTOWE: It's probably every young boy's dream … and maybe those not so young!

For imagine having what could best be described as the biggest train set in the world.

Thundering along at 75mph at the head of a stream of coloured boxes snaking away across the flat fields behind, this is one of the most powerful freight cargo trains on the rails today.

It can take up to 90 containers at one time - taking dozens of lorries off the roads on every journey.

Drivers say its pulling power is phenomenal and rail enthusiasts are struggling to find wide enough landscapes to capture photos of it in its full glory.

Six of the mighty beasts - called PowerHaul trains - are set to revolutionise the way cargo is handled by train in Britain, and others will follow.

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Details are still being finalised and the train is still undergoing trials, but its operator Freightliner expects it to run on a service in and out of Felixstowe port, through Ipswich and on to Birmingham from this year, once all the drivers are trained and tests complete.

Ashley Hughes, driver standard's manager, has been training the drivers on the new diesel train - and says they are loving it.

“There is a little bit of scepticism at first, like there is with most new things, but once they get in the cab and feel the pull of that engine it all disappears - the feedback we have had has been very positive indeed,” he said.

“The acceleration is quite slow but when you feel that pulling power, that muscle, almost feel it grunting, it is quite amazing - and once you get to 75mph it will run all day, just cruising steadily along.

“Even though our rail lines are very busy with all types of services we can get some very good runs out of it and make good time, especially the night trains when there is less traffic and there are green lights all the way.

“Driving the train is nice experience - a lovely feeling.”

Mr Hughes, who lives in the Chantry area of Ipswich and has worked on the railways for 26 years, said one of the key differences to the old less-powerful diesels is the use of computer technology in the cab,

“It's not been a big issue because most of the drivers are used to computers - most play on them at home, so they know what they are all about,” said the 42-year-old.

“But the operation is now more 21st century than we had in the past. It does make the job and life easier and the drivers have been very impressed.”

No structural alterations have been necessary to the freight yards at Felixstowe, Ipswich, Birmingham or other centres with sidings big enough and marshalling techniques able to cope with the 3,700hp train, which, although it could take 90 standard boxes on its 30 wagons is usually like to pull 60 containers - a 40ft and a 20ft box on each.

Adam Cunliffe, managing director of Freightliner Ltd, said, “We currently operate 21 daily services from the Port of Felixstowe, and until developments within the port are completed the number of train slots are limited.

“By utilising our new PowerHaul locomotives we are able to increase the capacity available to our customers whilst improving our carbon footprint.”

FASTFACTS: PowerHaul

The PowerHaul locomotive has a top speed of 75mph, and weighs in at 125 metric tons

It is environmentally-friendly - its built-in auxiliary power unit reducing power consumption.

The locomotive emits less carbon per gross-tonne mile than electric locomotives, and more than 10 tonnes less than its road equivalent.

It can pull 30 wagons - with each able to hold up to three 20ft boxes, though more likely to carry one 40ft and one 20ft.

It has a 3,700 horsepower engine, is almost 22 metres long, about four metres high and 2.6m wide, and carries 6,000 litres of fuel on board.

Freightliner has 30 of the engines on order and six of them are currently undergoing trials.

FELIXSTOWE: Getting more freight on to the rails is a key strategy for the Port of Felixstowe as it looks to the future.

Expansion of the container terminal will see more than one million more lorry movements a year on the A14, but rail cargo will grow substantially, too.

At the moment more than 350,000 boxes a year go by rail, but the port wants to increase this to 26 per cent of its throughput - doubling the amount on the rails by 2023.

Part of the plan involves dualling a section of the single-track Felixstowe-Ipswich line between Trimley St Martin and Nacton, which will allow longer trains to pass and increase the number of daily services, currently 28 services to 13 separate inland terminals.

David Gledhill, chief executive officer of Hutchison Ports (UK) Ltd, which owns the Port of Felixstowe, said the PowerHaul train was a vital part of this development.

“The new technology and capabilities of this loco will enable the running of longer trains, permitting more freight than ever before to be efficiently moved via rail,” he said.

“We are committed to optimising environmentally friendly rail transport opportunities for our customers; improving freight capacity on the rail network whilst maintaining the high standards that they expect.”