Major green milestone for HS2 as project announces first diesel-free construction site

HS2 Ltd – the company building Britain’s new high speed, low carbon railway – has today [Thursday 12 May] announced its first completely diesel-free site is the Canterbury Road Vent Shaft site in South Kilburn, where HS2’s civils contractor Skanska Costain STRABAG joint venture (SCS JV) have introduced a range of diesel-free technologies and greener equipment.

Earlier this year, HS2 Ltd announced that the project aims to be net-zero carbon from 2035, with the target of achieving its first diesel-free construction site in 2022, and all of its construction sites being diesel-free by 2029.

HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson said:

“HS2 is boosting transport across the UK, creating thousands of jobs and levelling up communities throughout the North and Midlands, all while leaving the environment better off than how we found it.

“This, the first of many diesel-free sites, is another example of how the country’s biggest infrastructure project not only delivers on its commitment to be Net Zero from 2035, but is a pioneer in leading the whole industry to cleaner, greener construction.”   

Innovations on this site include one of the UK’s first 160 tonne emissions-free fully electric crawler cranes; the use of biofuels (Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil) to power plant and machinery on site; an electric compressor; and access to mains power on a 100% renewable energy tariff.

HS2’s Net Zero Carbon Plan sets out how HS2 will achieve new carbon reduction milestones, support the decarbonisation of the UK construction sector and reduce the carbon footprint of the programme. Other sites are set to follow suit, with innovations including retrofit technologies, biofuels, hydrogen and solar power helping to cut carbon across the whole of the route.

Peter Miller, HS2’s Environment Director said:

“We’re delighted to reach this key milestone in our Net Zero Carbon Plan. HS2 is playing a major role in the decarbonisation of the construction industry, collaborating with the industry and our supply chain to accelerate innovation in low-carbon technologies. Reducing emissions and improving air quality on HS2 construction sites is crucial for both the environment and surrounding communities.”

James Richardson, Managing Director of SCS said:

“We’re thrilled that Canterbury Road Vent Shaft has become the first diesel-free site on the HS2 project. We’re working hard with our supply chain to introduce renewable energy, green hydrogen and sustainable biofuels to help us remove diesel entirely from our sites by 2023.”

Innovations being trialled and introduced on other sites include:

  • Clean Air Gas Engine’ funded through Innovate UK and led by OakTec, which replaces diesel power with ultra-low (bio-LPG) emission engines in Advante Welfare units and standalone units.
  • ‘EcoNet’ developed by Invisible Systems, Balfour Beatty and Sunbelt which controls and reduces energy output from key appliances, reducing power demand by 30%.
  • Non-Road Mobile Machinery retrofit solutions which adds pollution control equipment onto older vehicles as an alternative to replacing the machine or the engine, reducing emissions.
  • CESAR Emissions Compliance Verification which is a resilient system to show the EU Stage engine emission class of all construction plant.
  • Proactive dust management solutions reducing impacts associated with on-site activities.
  • Fully Electric Renewable Energy using solar and wind to power noise and air quality monitors, site security cameras and site briefing areas and solar pods powering sites by combining solar PV, battery storage and a back-up generator.
  • Hydrogen Technology trials across sites considering both fuel-cell technology and combustible hydrogen solutions.

HS2 acquires second major development site paving the way for Manchester’s new high speed station

HS2 Ltd has reached an agreement with Bruntwood, one of the UK’s leading property providers, to purchase Square One on Travis Street in readiness for construction of Manchester’s brand new high speed railway station.
The sale marks HS2’s second major property acquisition in the city centre in just over 12 months, following its purchase of the Store Street site in April 2021. Both sites have been purchased by HS2, on behalf of the Department for Transport, and are pivotal to the creation of the new high speed station that will be built adjacent to the existing Piccadilly Station.

Manchester’s new station is forecast to open between 2035 and 2040 and includes six platforms at surface level, allowing passengers to access both HS2 and future NPR services. The plans also include provision for a new four platform Metrolink station beneath the HS2 station.

Ruth Todd, Chief Commercial Officer at HS2 said:

“Following submission of the Bill earlier this year, seeking powers to construct and operate the railway between Crewe and Manchester, this acquisition represents another major milestone in our programme to bring high speed rail to the North.

“HS2’s purchase of Square One is a vote of confidence for investors locally and internationally to leverage the wider regeneration potential of the surrounding area, knowing that Manchester is set to become so brilliantly connected.

A large proportion of the area surrounding Piccadilly station is underdeveloped, making it a prime location for investment in new commercial space, housing and public realm.

Investment would see businesses, residents and visitors benefit from a 41 minute connection to Birmingham on HS2 (a 46-minute saving), with direct services from London Euston set to more than halve, cutting one hour and 12 minutes off the current fastest journey time.

Bruntwood, who sold the Square One site to HS2, has already set out its ambition to use the proceeds to continue investing in the UK’s regional centres.

Pete Bearpark, Asset Management Director at Bruntwood, said:

“We are committed to creating thriving places and communities, and after 15 years under Bruntwood stewardship, we have agreed to the sale of Square One and the land surrounding it to HS2 in advance of a formal compulsory purchase process.

“We will use the proceeds to continue to reinvest into regional cities to drive economic growth and have a positive impact on businesses and communities.

Early works supporting construction of the new Piccadilly high speed station are not forecast to commence until at least 2025. HS2 has agreed leasehold terms with Square One’s existing tenants to enable them to remain in situ until the site is required.

HS2 latest news and updates

HS2 set to start permanent construction of huge Victoria Road Crossover Box

  • The Victoria Road Crossover Box, near to Old Oak Common in West London, will allow HS2 trains to switch tracks underground on their approach into the new superhub station
  • Installation of 200m of sheet piling completed, allowing permanent works to commence
  • CGIs of crossover box and images of the piling works available 
HS2 set to start permanent construction of huge Victoria Road Crossover Box: Plan of Victoria Road Crossover Box

HS2 have completed sheet piling work by contractors Skanska Costain STRABAG Railways Joint Venture (SCS Railways) in Acton, West London, to enable the construction of the Victoria Road Crossover Box.  

The installation of 200m of sheet piling was the final piece of enabling work before permanent works can begin. The site team completed the work ensuring that vital utilities in the area, including a Thames Water Main and UK Power Network cables were unaffected.

The Victoria Road Crossover Box site is located to the west of where the new superhub HS2 Old Oak Common station is being constructed. The huge underground box structure being built will house a crossover track mechanism that will allow trains to switch between tracks, up to a design speed of 62 mp/h, on the approach and descent from Old Oak Common station.

The box will be 130m in length and 24m deep complete with 1.5m thick walls constructed by diaphragm piling method, with top and intermediate levels of reinforced concrete props.  The base slab of the crossover box will be supported is supported by 77 piles which will be installed 20m into the ground below the slab level.

Some interesting details of the impressive structure:

  • The crossover box will have a volume of 131,820m– the same as 55 Olympic Swimming pools or 800,00 bath tubs.
  • The structure will use 3,700 tonnes of reinforcement – that is roughly 1/3 of the weight of the Eiffel
  • The depth of the box is the equivalent of 6 double decker buses on top of each other.
  • The Piles are 44m long – similar to the height of the Arc de Triomphe.

The site at Victoria Road is also currently being prepared to launch the Northolt Tunnel Boring Machines which will bore 3.4 miles North West, as part of the construction of HS2’s 8.4 mile Northolt Tunnel.

Malcolm Codling, Project Client for HS2 Limited, said:

“HS2 Ltd and our contractors, are pushing ahead, completing this work on time to meet our construction timetable. The Victoria Road site will house some of the most crucial pieces of infrastructure that are required to make Old Oak Common station one of the best connected in the UK, providing a quarter of a million passengers a day connections to the North, East, South and West across the UK”

The site will also be home to the Victoria Road Ancillary Shaft which will provide ventilation and emergency access to the rail line during operation. The shaft will have an internal diameter of 25m and will be constructed using pre cast rings at the top, and using a sprayed concrete lining technique at the bottom.

James Richardson, Managing Director of Skanska Costain STRABAG Joint Venture, said:

“Our team are making great progress on constructing the crossover box at Victoria Road and are working collaboratively with other construction partners to deliver this exceptional programme of work. As we continue to build the HS2 tunnels and shafts between West Ruislip and Euston, we are growing our workforce and offer many routes into our industry so that our team reflects the diversity of the community we serve.”

HS2 Ltd, and its main works contractors, begun main works construction of the new high speed railway after being given the green light from the Prime Minister in April 2020. To date over 3,400 people are working across London on the project.

HS2 contractors win international Green Apple Environment Award

Competing against 500 other nominees worldwide, HS2’s main works civils contractor Align JV and civil engineering company Roadbridge have won a Green Apple Environment Award in the Innovation category for their use of thermal camera drones to spot Skylark nests.

HS2 contractors win international Green Apple Environment Award: Thermal camera drone used for surveys

The Green Apple Awards are run by the Green Organisation – an international, independent, environment group that recognises, rewards and promotes environmental best practice around the world.

Align JV, which will deliver the portion of HS2 that includes the Chiltern Tunnel and the Colne Valley Viaduct, working with its contractor Roadbridge, introduced thermal camera drones to dramatically improve the accuracy of nesting birds’ surveys, helping to protect the species and enable faster and more effective results for ecologists working on the project.

As ground-nesting birds with well camouflaged nests, Skylarks are very difficult to survey, but using a thermal camera, the drone can calibrate to the ground temperature and other objects to lock onto a heat source and identify the birds’ nests extremely accurately.

HS2’s Environment Director Peter Miller said:

“Protecting the natural environment as we build Britain’s new low-carbon railway is at the heart of everything we do. Some of the country’s most experienced and leading ecological consultants are working on the project, and we’re extremely pleased to see environmental innovations such as this gain international recognition and create new levels of best practice in the sector.”

Adam Cockayne, Environment Manager at Align JV said:

“Align is responsible for all ecological matters on this part of the HS2 project, and we’ve been working with Roadbridge on this innovation to ensure that the earthworks we’re carrying out do not disturb nesting birds in the area. Building on the success of the programme, we’re now planning to find other uses for thermal camera drones to benefit HS2’s ecological monitoring programme and are excited for what the future may hold.”

Vincent Ryan, Environmental Advisor at Roadbridge said:

“We’re delighted to win this international award for our environmental innovation. As a result of this award we have been invited to accept Green Apple World Ambassador status which means our winning paper will be published in the Green Book – the leading international work of reference for environmental best practice, so that others can follow our example and learn from the innovation.”

At twelve metres above ground level the drone captures approximately a 9m2 area, providing a reduction in search times, and a clear perspective from a 90-degree view of the ground below. Using a thermal camera, the drone can calibrate to the ground temperature and other objects to lock onto a heat source and identify the birds’ nests. This includes birds on the nest, eggs on the nest and birds sheltering on the ground.

Exclusion zones are then put on Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawings and into the Global Positioning System (GPS) of machinery working on site to let operators know when they are working near exclusion zones, to protect nests and allow works to progress safely.

Manchester’s P.P O’Connor Group helps to build HS2’s new Birmingham station

Manchester-based civil engineering specialists P.P O’Connor Group Limited have joined the growing number of British businesses supporting construction of Britain’s new railway, High Speed Two.

Manchester’s P.P O’Connor Group helps to build HS2’s new Birmingham station: HS2's Curzon Street Station in Birmingham

Over 2,000 companies have won work on Europe’s largest engineering project so far, and P.P O’Connor Group Ltd is one of 11 companies to have worked on the site which will become the first brand new intercity terminus station built in Britain since the since the 19th century. 

The P.P O’Connor Ltd team were tasked by HS2’s enabling works contractor for the West Midlands, LMJV (Laing O’Rourke and J. Murphy & Sons), with supporting the vast programme of works currently underway to prepare for the construction of the HS2 Curzon Street Station and the railway coming into Birmingham.

P.P O’Connor Group Ltd, who specialise in bulk earthworks, remediation, complex demolition, recycling and deconstruction, were called upon for their expertise in the safe and long-term removal of the invasive and highly aggressive species of plant known as Japanese Knotweed.

The banks of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, which run adjacent to the new station site and feature in the wider regeneration masterplans for the local area, were infested with the plant which can grow through concrete if left untreated. The scale of infestation required the team to remove and lower sections of the existing wall along the canal banks, which are well known for their links to TV-drama Peaky Blinders.

Darren Fowles, Project Manager at P.P O’Connor Group Limited, who led the programme of work on site said:

“We are delighted to be supporting the construction of this once-in-a-lifetime project and it’s great that Manchester firms are winning work on this first phase of the project.

“We hope the work we have delivered will stand us in good stead to secure more contract opportunities, particularly as HS2 extends to the Midlands and the North.”

An estimated 400,000 supply chain contract opportunities for UK businesses will be created during Phase One of HS2, supporting thousands of jobs on site and many more around the country. It is estimated that around 95% of those contract opportunities will be won by UK- based businesses and around two thirds of those will be small and medium sized enterprises.

David Poole, HS2 Ltd’s Procurement and Commercial Director said:

“Businesses right across the UK are winning work on HS2 and this is helping to sustain and support new jobs at a crucial time.

“HS2 is playing a pivotal role in Britain’s economic recovery and I’m delighted to see that companies in the North of England are securing contracts on this first phase of the project.”

Other work overseen by LM JV (Laing O’Rourke and J. Murphy & Sons) on the site includes diversions of utilities, which will future-proof the area for Birmingham’s tram extension.

The transformative refurbishment of the Grade 1 listed Old Curzon Street Station is just about to start, marking the next phase of work around the new high speed terminus. HS2 will also announce the Curzon Street Station delivery contract award in 2021.

For more information about opportunities within HS2’s supply chain visit hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/supply-chain/

HS2 shortlists Track Systems and Tunnel and Lineside M&E suppliers

Following on from the start of construction, today’s announcement unlocks more opportunities for Britain’s construction and engineering sector, hard-hit by the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Both sets of contract opportunities cover design and construction between London, Birmingham and Crewe, where HS2 trains will join the existing West Coast Mainline. The winners of the Track systems contracts will also take a lead role in managing and coordinating the complex interfaces between the track and other elements of the rail systems.

The following organisations will be invited to tender for Track Systems:

Lot 1 – Phase One (Urban – London and Birmingham) – £434m

  • Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, ETF SAS, TSO SAS (BBVT Joint Venture)
  • Ferrovial Construction (UK) Ltd and BAM Nuttall Ltd (Ferrovial-BAM Joint Venture)
  • Colas Rail Ltd
  • STRABAG AG UK and Rhomberg Sersa UK (STRABAG Rhomberg Sersa Joint Venture)

Lot 2 – Phase One (Open Route – Central) – £526m

  • Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, ETF SAS, TSO SAS (BBVT Joint Venture)
  • Ferrovial Construction (UK) Ltd and BAM Nuttall Ltd (Ferrovial-BAM Joint Venture)
  • Colas Rail Ltd
  • STRABAG AG UK and Rhomberg Sersa UK (STRABAG Rhomberg Sersa Joint Venture)

Lot 3 – Phase One (Open Route – North) – £566m

  • Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, ETF SAS, TSO SAS (BBVT Joint Venture)
  • Ferrovial Construction (UK) Ltd and BAM Nuttall Ltd (Ferrovial-BAM Joint Venture)
  • Colas Rail Ltd

Lot 4 – Phase 2a (Track) – £431m

  • Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, ETF SAS, TSO SAS (BBVT Joint Venture)
  • Ferrovial Construction (UK) Ltd and BAM Nuttall Ltd (Ferrovial-BAM Joint Venture)
  • Colas Rail Ltd
  • STRABAG AG UK and Rhomberg Sersa UK (STRABAG Rhomberg Sersa Joint Venture)

Rail, switches and crossings and pre-cast slab track will be delivered by separate suppliers – with the Track Systems contractor coordinating the design, logistics and installation. The winning bidders are set to commence work on site once the tunnels, bridges, viaducts and earthworks are complete.

The winning Track Systems contractors will oversee the design and construction of plain line track, switches and crossings, an infrastructure maintenance depot, managing construction logistics and supporting the testing and commissioning phase. They will also act as Construction Design and Management (CDM) Principal Contractor for the trace and be responsible for logistics and consents co-ordination.

The winner of the estimated £498m Tunnel and Lineside M&E package will be a Principal Contractor, delivering the design, supply, manufacture, installation, testing, commissioning and maintenance (until handover) of the Phase One and Phase 2a Tunnel and Lineside M&E systems.

This includes the tunnel services within the shafts, tunnels and cross-passages, low voltage power services and distribution in the open route. The contractor will also design, supply, install, test and commission the tunnel ventilation systems.

The following organisations will be invited to tender for Tunnel and Lineside M&E:

  • Alstom Transport UK Ltd
  • Balfour Beatty Bailey Joint Venture (BBB JV) – a joint venture between Balfour Beatty Group Ltd and NG Bailey Ltd
  • Costain Group PLC

HS2 Ltd’s Procurement and Commercial Director, David Poole said:

“Rail systems are some of the most important parts of the HS2 project – the high-tech equipment and systems that will allow our trains to deliver an unparalleled service in terms of speed, frequency and reliability.

“The appointment of the Track Systems and M&E suppliers will be an important milestone for the project, and a significant opportunity for the industry and the wider supply chain. At the peak of construction, HS2 will support around 30,000 jobs and contracts like this will provide a real boost for employers across the supply chain, helping to boost skills and provide opportunities for years to come.”

Contracts for Track Systems and Tunnels and Lineside M&E are expected to be awarded in 2022.

HS2 launches 2021 graduate recruitment scheme

The opportunity to join one of Europe’s biggest infrastructure projects, and play a role in levelling up Britain, will become a reality for the 17 people who secure a place on HS2’s coveted 2-year graduate programme.

With a major engineering programme ahead, HS2 is bolstering its infrastructure directorate by offering the opportunity for engineering graduates to join the teams charged with overseeing the delivery of the stations, tunnels and viaducts along the 140-mile section of the first phase of the railway between Birmingham and London.

Further graduate opportunities will be created in Project Management, Commercial, Design, Governance and Controls and Communications and Engagement.

Karen Davis, HS2 Ltd’s Future Talent Manager, said:

“We’re committed to ensuring that HS2 leaves a learning legacy and our annual investment in apprentices and graduates helps us to achieve this.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for 17 talented graduates who will be given the opportunity to begin their career working on a truly historic and innovative project”.

HS2 Ltd received over 1,000 applications for its 2020 graduate training programme, which informed the decision to increase the number of graduates it welcomed into the business in September this year. This year, the decision has been taken once again to increase the annual intake from nine to 17 for the 2021 cohort.

Karen added:

“This has been an incredibly difficult year for young people and we’re doing everything we can to support their career journeys. 

“In February we’ll open the recruitment window for our annual apprentice scheme and we’ve already increased the number of work experience placements and mentoring opportunities available”.   

Demand for the 2021 graduate programme is expected to be high and students are encouraged to submit their applications as soon as possible.

For more information about the graduate programme and the roles available, visit hs2.org.uk/careers/

HS2 removes over 12,500 lorries from UK roads as first freight train rolls into Bucks site

  • Over 180 freight trains set to deliver material to HS2’s main compound in Buckinghamshire in next 12 months, equivalent to 12,670 HGVs that would otherwise be on Britain’s roads
  • Use of rail freight to this site will cut 30,150 tonnes of carbon – the equivalent of flying from London to Edinburgh 930 times!
HS2 removes over 12,500 lorries from UK roads as first freight train rolls into Bucks site: Calvert freight train

The first freight train has arrived at HS2’s main construction compound in Buckinghamshire, as work continues to prepare for the start of construction across the central section of Britain’s new high-speed railway.

Over the next year, more than 180 freight trains are set to deliver material to the site taking the equivalent of 12,670 trucks (HGVs) off the road and saving 30,150 tonnes of carbon – the equivalent of flying from London to Edinburgh 930 times.

The train – operated by DB Cargo UK and Hanson – delivered 1,650 tonnes of aggregate that will be used in the construction of the temporary Calvert Railhead.

Across the whole HS2 project, 15,000 freight trains are set to be used to haul 10 million tonnes of aggregate to construction sites – taking the equivalent of 1.5 million HGVs off the UK’s road.

The 26,200 sq/m Calvert Railhead site is roughly halfway between London and Birmingham and will be run by HS2’s main works contractor EKFB – a team made up of Eiffage, Kier, Ferrovial and Bam Nuttall. EKFB are delivering the 80km central section of the route, including 17 viaducts, 81 bridges and three ‘green tunnels’ and are set to create 4,000 jobs over the next two years.

HS2 Project Client Director, Ambrose McGuire said:

“We are serious about reducing the impact of construction on the local community and promoting sustainable construction methods. That’s why I’m so pleased to see the arrival of the first material into Calvert by rail instead of road.

“We’ve been working closely with Network Rail, EKFB and the Freight Operators for a number of years to make this possible, and to deliver not only low carbon journeys for our passengers, but also cut carbon in construction.”

EKFB Operations Director, Peter Bimson said:

“We are delighted to be at the forefront of carbon reduction in the construction industry, and bringing this aggregate into Calvert by train instead of road is not only more efficient, but significantly reduces our impact on the environment.

“Removing thousands of HGVs from the roads in the Calvert area also demonstrates our commitment to the local community in delivering EKFB’s section of the HS2 project with as little impact as possible.”

At the peak of construction, more than 650 people will work at the Calvert Railhead, stockpiling materials and managing the logistics and construction of the central section of the new railway. Once HS2 is complete, the railhead will be removed and the site landscaped, leaving only a small infrastructure maintenance depot.

The railhead is also next to a section of disused railway which is set to be brought back into local passenger use as part of the East-West rail project which will link Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge. The two teams are working closely together on their construction plans and a bridge will be installed to allow HS2 to pass under the reopened railway.

HS2 seeks switches and crossing suppliers for £150m contract

HS2 Ltd today began the search for suppliers to provide switches and crossings for the 280km of new high-speed track between London, Birmingham and the connection with the existing west coast mainline at Crewe.

The contract – worth up to £156m – will include the design, manufacture and delivery of around 180 switches and crossings for Phase 1 and 2a of the project, with options to extend for further equipment to cover Crewe to Manchester in phase 2b as well as the  maintenance depots.

Designed to operate smoothly, reliably and safely at speeds of up to 360km/h and diverging speeds up to 230km/h, the switches and crossings will be a vital component of the HS2 track systems. The contract also includes around 77 rail expansion devices for track on viaducts and bridges.

HS2 Ltd is running a separate procurement process to award four Track Systems contracts for the design and installation of the track and coordination of construction logistics. This will also include integration and installation of the switches and crossings.

HS2 Ltd’s Procurement and Commercial Director, David Poole, said:

“The switches and crossings supplier will play a vital role in delivering the high-tech rail systems that will allow HS2 to run some of the world’s most reliable, fast and efficient high speed trains.

“The launch of this new procurement contest is an important step towards appointing all the suppliers who will deliver the rail systems once the main civils work is complete. HS2 already supports more than 13,000 jobs across the UK and contracts like this will provide a real boost for employers across the supply chain, helping to support skills development and provide opportunities for years to come.”

In order to reduce long term costs and improve performance, the track will be set onto concrete slabs instead of the ballast commonly used on the UK rail network. This approach – known as slab track – is commonly used on metro systems and some international high speed rail lines, and will allow for a higher frequency of service with reduced maintenance requirements.

A contract to deliver the pre-cast slab track has recently been awarded to PORR UK Ltd which will see the slabs made at a new factory in Somerset.

The news comes days after the launch of another, separate procurement completion for the station building systems for the Phase One stations. This framework contract – worth up to £47m – covers components and systems that will be common to all four stations.

This includes:

  • Public Address / Voice Alarm (PAVA);
  • Fire Detection and Alarm System;
  • Building Energy Management System (BEMS);
  • Lighting Control System (LCS);
  • Customer Information System (CIS); and
  • Station Information Management System (SIMS).

The Framework Supplier will also be expected to work collaboratively with HS2 Ltd and Phase One Station Contractors. A shortlist is expected to be announced in summer 2021 with contract award in early 2022.

HS2 is running separate procurement competitions for the other elements of the rail systems, including overhead catenary, high voltage power supply, command and control systems, communications, mechanical and electrical systems, and the depot at Washwood Heath.

Bidders for the switches and crossings contract are expected to be shortlisted in summer 2021, with the contracts to be awarded in 2022.

O Come All Ye Freight-Full: Avalanche of Christmas goods to be delivered by rail freight this year

New figures reveal that rail freight is set to play a key role in the run up to Christmas this year delivering millions of tonnes of festive goods to shops around the country. Almost a third of Tesco’s Christmas range will reach their shelves by rail freight including a huge amount of Christmas crackers, trees and bottles of wine.

The supermarket giant is increasing the amount of goods they transport by rail freight to boost reliability and reduce emissions to help tackle the climate emergency and has announced a £5million investment in September in their new rail freight equipment. This year 30% of their Christmas products will be transported by rail 70% more than last year including:

  • Nearly 8 million bottles of wine
  • Over 350,000 Christmas crackers
  • 80,000 Christmas trees
  • Half a million boxes of lights
  • Nearly 5 million gift wrapping accessories
  • Around 1.5m boxes of decorations
  • Over 1.5 million Christmas cards

Throughout the pandemic the railway played a vital role getting key workers where they were needed with rail freight keeping supermarkets stocked and power stations fuelled as more people worked from home. Now that COVID-19 will mean a very different Christmas for many people across the country, rail companies are working hard to ensure people have everything they need for the holidays.

Last month alone, freight trains have transported more than 1.6m tonnes of intermodal goods on almost 3,700 trains. This year, freight trains will deliver festive food, drink, decorations and toys across the country, and also transport the millions of Christmas cards sent to loved ones as well as the all-important letters to Father Christmas.

Robert Nisbet, Director of Nations and Regions for the Rail Delivery Group said,

“It’s been a challenging year for many people across Britain so we’re happy that rail freight can play a central role in delivering Christmas cheer, ensuring families have everything they need to celebrate in style. With only a fraction of the emissions compared to road haulage, every tree, pudding and toy transported by rail is helping to make this a green Christmas.”

The amount of intermodal freight transported has increased since last year and by almost 20% over the last decade delivering significant benefits for the environment. Each freight train can carry as many as 76 heavy goods vehicles with only a fraction of the emissions meaning a modal shift from road haulage to rail will not only help tackle the climate emergency but can help cut traffic jams too.

Chris Connelly, Managing Director for Direct Rail Services who operate rail freight transportation for Tesco said,  

Every month we transport around 12,000 containers of vital goods across the country to ensure shelves are stocked and Christmas presents available.  

“Using our state-of-the-art Class 88 locomotives we can move huge loads hundreds of miles and, when running on overhead electricity, with zero exhaust emissions, making it absolutely fantastic for the environment.” 

Rail Minster, Chris Heaton-Harris MP whose constituency Daventry contains the international rail freight terminal DIRFT said

“The sheer volume of festive goods that are currently being transported across the country daily is reflective of the crucial role that the rail freight industry plays at this time of year.

“Rail freight has been fundamental in ensuring that the country, and the economy, has kept moving through the pandemic, and I am thankful to everyone working so hard to keep Christmas on track.”

Britain’s new high-speed railway, HS2, is now under construction, and once complete it will provide additional capacity on the existing network to grow the amount of goods transported by rail, alongside increasing local and regional passenger services. Building HS2 frees up a massive amount of space on the existing railway by placing fast inter-city passenger services on their own pair of tracks. Once HS2 is operating, trains on existing lines can run much closer together, meaning there will be more paths available for rail freight operators.

Mark Thurston, HS2 Ltd’s CEO, said:

“It is fantastic that more of what we eat, drink and gift each other at Christmas is now travelling by rail, removing lorries from our roads and reducing the amount of carbon emitted by transport. However, many of our major railway lines have already run out of room for more freight trains, so if we want to grow the amount of goods we move by rail we need to create more space for them.

“As well as offering low carbon journeys to hundreds of thousands of people every day, HS2 will also take pressure off the existing network for more local, regional and freight services. By unlocking much-needed capacity across the country, we can continue to see more freight travelling by cleaner, greener rail, as each tonne of freight transported by rail reduces carbon emissions by 76% compared to road.”

HS2’s first giant tunnelling machines arrive in the UK

HS2’s first two giant Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) have arrived in the UK and will be ready to start work on the UK’s largest infrastructure project early next year.

The two enormous 2,000 tonne machines – named Florence and Cecilia – will now be meticulously reassembled, tested and commissioned, by an expert team of tunnelling engineers, before they start work on the high speed rail project’s first tunnels.

The 10-mile-long ‘twin bore’ Chiltern tunnel will be the longest on the project, the first to start construction, with the TBMs set to be underground, working 24/7 for more than three years.

Welcoming the news, HS2 Ltd Chief Executive Mark Thurston said: 

“The launch of our first tunnelling machines will be a defining moment in the history of HS2 – and our work to deliver a high speed railway that will offer a low-carbon alternative for journeys across the UK.

“Construction is now well underway, with more than 13,000 jobs supported by the project, both directly and in our UK-wide supply chain. The arrival of Florence and Cecilia is a major step forward and our expert team will now work to assemble, test and commission them before their launch next year.”

Designed specifically for the mix of chalk and flints under the Chilterns, the two identical TBMs will dig separate tunnels for north and southbound trains, with Florence set to launch first and Cecilia to follow a few weeks behind.

Each machine operates as a self-contained underground factory, which as well as digging the tunnel, will also line it with concrete wall segments and grout them into place as it moves forward at a speed of 15 meters a day. Each tunnel will require 56,000 segments – which will all be made on site. A crew of 17 people will operate each TBM, working in shifts to keep the machines running 24/7. They will be supported by over 100 people on the surface, managing the logistics and maintaining the smooth progress of the tunnelling operation.

These first two TBMs will be operated by HS2’s main works contractor, Align – a joint venture formed of three international infrastructure companies: Bouygues Travaux Publics, Sir Robert McAlpine, and VolkerFitzpatrick.

Align Project Director Daniel Altier commented:

“Now that the parts have arrived the detailed job of assembling and commissioning the machines has begun.

“There are also considerable other activities continuing on our site to prepare for the launch of Florence and Cecilia next year. This includes the construction of a factory that will manufacture the concrete segments to be used to line the tunnel and a slurry treatment plant that will process material from the tunnels.”

The Align Joint Venture expects to recruit 1,200 vacancies, with over 100 opportunities for apprentices. They plan to target their recruitment and investment in upskilling local people who are currently unemployed, with a particular focus on women, under 25s and those with disabilities.

This is another great example of the vital role HS2 continues to play in the UK Government’s Plan for Jobs to protect, support and create  employment, which has helped millions of people to continue to provide for their families over the past eight months of the COVID-19 crisis.

Built by Herrenknecht, a world leader in TBM manufacturing, at its factory in south-west Germany, the two 170m long machines were transported to the UK in more than 300 separate shipments over the course of two months, with the parts now safely delivered to the Align Chiltern tunnel site, to the west of London just inside the M25.

The names of the two TBMs were suggested by students at Meadow High School in Hillingdon and The Chalfonts Community College, Buckinghamshire, which are close to the tunnel launch site. They were inspired by Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern medicine, and pioneering astronomer and astrophysicist, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.

Around 4,500 people from across the UK took part in the poll to select the final names, with Florence taking 40% of the vote and Cecilia a close second with 32%.