HomeBusinessA week of milestones for GBRf

A week of milestones for GBRf

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It has been an important week for GB Railfreight (GBRf), with two milestones inviting the business to look back to and past and also to the future with regard to its role in intermodal transport.

What will have attracted the attention of most people is the news it would be getting 30 Class 99 bi-mode Co-Co locomotives – thanks to a deal with Stadler and Beacon Rail.

This deal will result in the train’s introduction to the UK. The Class 99s are powerful and perfect for taking heavy intermodal freight along electrified and non-electrified routes – combining 25kV with a powerful diesel operating mode.

They can reach speeds of 120 km/h and can run on electrified lines with a power of 6,000 kW at wheel. On non-electrified lines, the Stage-V engine is high-power, but, crucially, it is designed to be low emission, Stadler says.

All this adds up to the locos being able to manage 500 kN of tractive power.

Meanwhile, inside the vehicle, the driver is provided with everything from a good view to an ergonomic desk.

The introduction of these new locomotives is another great sign that freight is in a position to invest. Recently, GBRf also ordered 50 new Greenbrier box wagons with Porterbrook (announced in March) and 100 intermodal twin wagons the year before.

And this investment comes at a good time as well: recent figures showed that the amount of freight lifted was up, with the end of 2021 seeing the most freight lifted since 2017. And with the recent disruption to supply chains, rail’s intermodal capabilities underlined the transportation mode’s usefulness during more trying circumstances.

Green credentials

But the new Class 99 trains won’t just be good for business: they will also do their bit for the planet. The Class 99s are expected to cut emissions by about 50% per journey and become the most sustainable mode of moving goods for the UK public and businesses. It is anticipated that the new hybrid model will reduce GBRf’s carbon footprint by 428 tonnes per working day across intermodal services operating along partially electrified lines.

And when electrification of the UK is complete, the business says it anticipates the effect of this will be to reduce emissions by 585,000 tonnes of carbon per year. 

John Smith, CEO of GB Railfreight, said: “Rail freight is not just the backbone of the UK’s economy; it is now leading the push to decarbonise supply chains. Our new and cutting-edge locomotives will immediately make a huge impact on reducing CO2 emissions, improve choice for businesses and consumers, and cut their carbon footprints when purchasing goods. If scaled, with the help of the UK government to electrify more routes, the Class 99 locomotive can play an even greater role in helping supply chains and business operations become significantly more climate-friendly.”

Industry minister, Lee Rowley, said: “Making our rail networks more sustainable is hugely important to ensuring our supply chains can continue to be the cornerstone of the UK’s economic growth.

“The launch of the Class 99, the first hybrid locomotive to run on UK rail networks, is a big moment for the British rail and freight industry. By helping GB Railfreight to cut emissions by half per journey, it will help to usher in a new age of low carbon goods transport in the UK.”

CEO of Stadler Valencia, Iñigo Parra, said: “Stadler has extensive experience in the UK locomotive market. Over recent years, we have introduced the Class 68 diesel-electric locomotive, the Class 88 bi-mode locomotive and Europe’s first tri-mode locomotive, the Class 93, in line with our commitment to decarbonising rail transport.

“We are very proud to go one step further with the development of the Class 99, a versatile, high-performance locomotive that will provide environmentally-friendly and cost-effective rail transport services, supporting modal shift to rail.”

Beacon CEO, Adam Cunliffe said: “Beacon is proud to introduce the Class 99 to the market; this is the result of a collaborative approach with our long-standing customer GB Railfreight and manufacturer Stadler. The Class 99 order underlines Beacon’s drive to support the UK’s journey towards a greener and more efficient rail network. We look forward to supporting the delivery programme for these locomotives ahead of introduction to service in 2025, providing further momentum to facilitate modal shift from road to rail”.

Just days before, the GBRf also enjoyed celebrating another important landmark – 20 years in partnership with the Port of Felixstowe, when the pair first collaborated on an inaugural service to transport goods for MSC.

Since the first service, GBRf has gone on to operate 50 daily services nationwide, of which 14 are for MSC. The port has expanded from 28 to 76 daily trains over the 20 years, with 30 of these belonging to GBRf, resulting in 166 GBRf trains running to and from Felixstowe each week.

With the expansion of the port, GBRf transported 245,240 containers in and out of the port last year.

In the years ahead, Felixstowe is expected to expand further, creating 90 daily rail freight services from the port. GBRf has already launched three new services – iPort, Tinsley and Birch Coppice – in the past 12 months.

John Smith said: “Without our 20-year partnership, we would not have been able to support the UK economy in the way that we did. Felixstowe has been crucial to the success of GBRf and the wider rail freight sector, enabling us to deliver more services, in a more efficient way, to customers. In the next 20 years, our partnership will be multi-faceted, as we work together to make the UK’s supply chains even more resilient, efficient, and importantly, sustainable too”.

Clemence Cheng, CEO, Port of Felixstowe, said: “GB Railfreight are a key partner helping to ensure that we are able to offer shippers a range of frequent, efficient and sustainable distribution options from the Port of Felixstowe. We have worked closely with them as their operation has grown over the last 20 years and look forward to continuing the relationship long into the future.”

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