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Tarmac in overhead electrification trial

Tarmac MOC

Company helps spearhead innovative trial to decarbonize rail freight and reduce passenger delays

TARMAC, together with partners Furrer+Frey and GB Railfreight, are spearheading an innovative overhead electrification system that could revolutionize rail freight, spelling the end of diesel and boosting the industry’s net-zero ambitions.

The Decarbonization & Electrification of Freight Terminals (DEFT) project – trialled this week at Wellingborough freight terminal in Northamptonshire – is expected to decarbonize rail and lessen freight’s impact on passenger journeys.


Freight trains are typically loaded and unloaded from above, preventing the use of the high-voltage overhead cables used on mainline railways. As such, freight trains still rely on diesel to move in and out of terminals and passengers can be delayed by slower diesel freight trains on mainlines, or those waiting to be moved into a depot by a shunter.

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

Funded by the Department for Transport and Innovate UK, the innovative system is being trialled at Tarmac’s aggregate facility in Wellingborough, in partnership with GB Railfreight.

The facility is adjacent to the Midland Mainline, which is currently being electrified and upgraded by Network Rail as part of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan, to increase capacity for passengers and freight trains.

If successful, the moveable overhead system could go on to be deployed at other freight terminals across the UK and support the full decarbonization of Britain’s railways.

Chris Swan, head of rail at Tarmac, said: ‘Decarbonizing transport has been highlighted as one of the key areas in which we can help achieve net-zero across the construction industry.

‘Supporting this exciting project is just the latest step in the ongoing development of our rail freight capabilities, which form part of Tarmac’s wider commitment to reducing CO2 across the whole business.

‘We’re always keen to explore new initiatives and innovations that can help us move materials to the right place at the right time more efficiently and sustainably.’

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 can pull in on electricity, disconnect from it to safely load and unload, then reconnect to travel on.’

The DEFT project is one of 30 initiatives to win a share of £9 million from the Department for Transport, in partnership with Innovate UK, focusing on improving journeys and reducing the environmental impacts of rail as the country builds back better from COVID-19.


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