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Unique collaboration leads to significant rail milestones being set!

An international rail freight service has achieved two industry firsts due to a unique collaboration between DB Cargo UK, Transfesa, Eurotunnel and the operators of HS1.

Amid the disruption and chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, a small but significant piece of railway history was made earlier this month.

Due to a unique collaboration between DB Cargo UK, its Spanish sister company Transfesa, Eurotunnel and the operators of HS1, a shipment of Type 139 vehicles conveying containers was transported through the Channel Tunnel and on to Ripple Lane Exchange Sidings in South London.

The large containers carried produce and essential products for the supermarket giant, Tesco, which were bound for the shelves of local supermarkets.

Nothing sensational you might say, however this particular train achieved two industry firsts for rail freight.

Firstly, the train from Calais to Dollands Moor was given permission to pass through the tunnel at the height of the daytime peak period on a pathway usually fiercely protected for passenger trains.

Secondly and even more significant was the fact that part of the train (one of two portions hauled by a Class 92) was able, due to an operating agreement reached between DB and HS1, to travel onwards on the HS1 network at a lower speed than would normally be allowed – due to HS1’s unique signalling system, trains normally would normally have to travel at 120km/h, however on this occasion it was allowed to run at just 100km/h.

DB Cargo UK’s Operations Standards Manager Nicolas Edwards explained:

“To maximise the commercial opportunity a maximum axle loading of 22.5t was required. Axle weights of this level are usually restricted to 100kmph on HS1 but the signalling system doesn’t allow Class 92s to run at 100kmph. This was the challenge we had to overcome.”

Nick explained that with social-distancing restrictions still in place, a series of virtual meetings was called, with colleagues from DB Cargo UK, Transfesa, Eurotunnel and HS1, using email, phone calls and Microsoft Teams to thrash out a solution.

“The solution we eventually came up with was to use the 3973 process from the White Pages. I drew up a proposal, carried out a common safety method risk assessment and submitted it to HS1. We were requested to ‘attend’ the HS1 Safety Review Panel and after some further work we were issued with a memorandum of completed cooperation on May 22nd allowing us to operate.

“It was a fantastic team effort in extraordinary circumstances and just shows what can be achieved by working together when the odds are stacked against you,” added Nick.

“Hopefully this will pave the way for a longer-term engineering solution that will enable more freight services to operate on HS1 in the future.”

Steve James, the Chair of HS1’s Safety Review Panel, said “Let’s hope that 22.5t axle-loading will become a regular feature and that this will improve the viability of moving goods by rail.”