Mark Smith - Loco 66065 working 6U59, unloading with Tarmac South’s new grab

 Tarmac - building and construction materials by rail.

Rail freight remains a vital part of the UK construction supply chain, with more than 20 million tonnes of aggregates and materials moved by rail each year. A new partnership between Tarmac and DB Cargo UK is demonstrating how the use of 100 per cent renewable fuel on a strategic route can cut carbon emissions further and play an important part in the transition to net zero construction.

Tarmac, the leading sustainable building materials and construction solutions business, is one of the largest users of rail freight and the largest transporter of construction materials by rail in the UK. With more than 60 of its sites nationwide connected to the rail network, the business transports around nine million tonnes of material by rail across the UK each year.  

For Chris Swan, Head of Rail at Tarmac, rail freight is an increasingly important element of the company’s sustainable transport strategy and integral to the company’s drive to modal shift and lowering operational emissions.

Mark Smith - Loco 66065 working 6U59, unloading with Tarmac South’s new grab
Mark Smith - Loco 66065 working 6U59, unloading with Tarmac South’s new grab

Swan says: “Supply by one aggregate train is typically the equivalent of removing up to 76 HGVs from the road. We have previously seen that one aggregate train can produce more than 70 per cent less carbon dioxide per tonne compared with the equivalent road journey. However, previous trials by DB Cargo UK have estimated that as much as 90 per cent of a train’s carbon emissions can be eliminated by using hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO) fuel compared to traditional red diesel.

“We’re constantly looking to explore and adopt new innovations that support efficient and sustainable delivery. The use of HVO on a key part of our strategic network is therefore a natural step to further lowering the environmental impact of moving our materials to customers UK wide,” adds Swan.

Tarmac freight trains running between Tarmac’s Mountsorrel quarry in Leicestershire and its rail-fed asphalt plant in the centre of Birmingham now use HVO as part of the new agreement. 

HVO, or hydro-treated vegetable oil, is a FAME-free and fossil-free alternative to mineral diesel. Accredited with International Sustainability & Carbon Certification, it is synthetically made through the hydrotreatment of either vegetable oils or animal fats and is manufactured from 100 per cent renewable raw materials.

HVO capacity is growing quickly globally, by an expected 50 per cent over the next three years, with the majority of production taking place in Europe.

For Roger Neary, DB Cargo UK’s Head of Sales, the use of HVO offers an immediate opportunity for freight customers to reduce CO2 and NO2 emissions in rail.

“In line with its national legally binding commitments, the Government has set the rail industry a stretching target to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. While the ongoing electrification of the rail network will deliver by far the biggest reduction in CO2 emissions generated by the rail industry, this investment programme is likely to take years to complete. It’s therefore important we look at fuel technology and the incremental environmental savings it can deliver now.

 “HVO is slightly more expensive than traditional red diesel but on balance we believe that the environmental benefits of using HVO far outweigh the marginal increased cost,” says Neary.


Swan concludes: “The rail freight industry is one that we at Tarmac believe in strongly, however making rail freight a preferred transport solution requires the rail and construction sectors to work collaboratively. We must take collective steps and act in a cohesive manner to maximise the potential of this opportunity. Delivering new innovations like the use of HVO, as well as tackling other wider industry issues such as network capacity and track access charging is important for everyone in the sector.

“Against a significant UK infrastructure pipeline and buoyant construction market, Tarmac products, services and solutions are needed to build and maintain the infrastructure that we all rely on. But in the context of a climate emergency, it’s also critical that we meet this demand in a responsible way, driving decarbonisation and using resources efficiently. An important part of this is collaboration with our supply chain and partners, in this case DB Cargo UK, to capture and accelerate the innovation required on the journey to net zero,” says Swan.  

 Tarmac has been working in its current arrangement with DB Cargo UK since 2016, where the rail operator transports aggregates and materials on behalf of Tarmac derived from Mountsorrel, Leicestershire, and Greenwich, London.