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UK could see piggyback trains by September

[ May 25, 2012   //   ]

The Russell Group’s Barking terminal in East London hosted the UK’s first ever ‘piggytrack’ train to carry full-height trailers on 22 May. A successful test run operated by Eurotunnel’s Europorte Channel through-rail subsidiary transported goods for the Vauxhall Group over the almost 400km distance from Antwerp in Belgium in conjunction with Ewals Intermodal, a sister company of Dutch-based  Ewals Cargo care.

This new service is unique in the UK in that it allows the transport of complete trailers on board ‘pocket’ wagons, with the trailers being lifted on and off the train by crane at either end of the rail journey.

Ewals Cargo Care’s purchasing manager Dennis Steeghs told FBJ that his company hopes to have a commercial service operating into Barking from the Benelux countries by September this year, initially three days a week but the intention is to go to weekly as soon as possible.

Ewals already operates similar services on the Continent, including Germany/Czech Republic, Germany/Sweden, Belgium/Italy and between north and south Germany. It operates its own intermodal terminal at Geleen in southern Netherlands and 1,200 of its 3,000-strong road trailer fleet are already ‘Megahuckepack’ specification – specially strengthened and with an adapted air suspension system that allows them to be craned on and off the rail wagons without damage. Ewals also operates a fleet of 250 rail wagons, including 40 pocket piggyback wagons.

Although piggyback operation has been tried before on UK domestic rail routes, these attempts used cut-down trailers because of the restricted UK loading gauge. The Europorte service avoids this restriction by using the High Speed 1 route from the Channel Tunnel to Barking, currently the UK’s only rail line with the necessary clearance for full size trailers, but Europorte Channel director, Kevin Walker told FBJ: “We would like to put pressure on politicians to gauge-clear routes to the north of the UK to make them suitable for this kind of traffic.”

The Rail Freight Group’s chairman Tony Berkeley added that a Thrall version of the piggyback wagon with inside bogie frames would fit within the existing width envelope on the UK rail system and would require only raising of bridges and tunnels to clear a route from the south to the north of England.

The attraction of piggyback operation to hauliers and logistics companies is that it would allow intermodal operation without investment in specialised fleets of containers and swapbodies. Ewals Cargo Care fleet control manager Bart van Rens said that the Megahuckepack specification trailers were very similar to standard units. The strengthening added around 400kg to the tare weight although this could be mitigated by use of lighter-weight material; the only other major modification was a ‘splitter’ on the trailer’s air-suspension that prevented the vehicle being inadvertently moved while it was deflated. It was also possible to buy ‘Huckepack-ready’ trailers to which the modifications could be easily and cheaply added.

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