Freight trains will move 34,000 tonnes of supermarket produce across the English-Scottish border this Easter weekend despite their usual rail route being shut for planned upgrades.
Network Rail is replacing Euxton Lane Junction near Preston – a major job forcing closure of the West Coast main line.
With vital supplies that must get through, the company is working with its rail freight partners to divert supplies via the East Coast main line.
Within hours of making their extended journey north, the Easter eggs, packets of cereal, fruit, veg and other essentials will be on shop shelves for people to buy on their rare trips out for provisions during coronavirus lock-down.
Ordinarily, the many thousands of tonnes a day of supermarket stock that passes by rail into Scotland is nothing remarkable.
Freight trains are out of sight, out of mind, moving mainly at night and largely unnoticed going to and from all parts of the country.
But the coronavirus crisis has brought Britain’s regular rhythm of rail freight supplies into sharp focus.
This weekend’s Scotland-bound freight trains will travel from Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal, in Northamptonshire, to Moss End Terminal in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire.
Usually they go 310 miles up the West Coast main line. This weekend they’ll go via Derby, Sheffield, Doncaster and York on the East Coast main line before re-joining the West Coast lain line near Edinburgh – an increase of over 100 miles.
David Hunter, senior route freight manager for Network Rail, said: “During this very difficult time for Britain, the railway’s role is clear – to keep essential workers, including NHS medics, and vital supplies, including food, moving.
“Despite coronavirus and must-do railway upgrade work forcing closure of the West Coast main line, we are making sure those supplies – pasta, bananas, loo roll and other essentials – continue to get through.”
He added: “For Britain to function, it needs the railway. For the railway to function, we need our critical frontline railway workers including signallers, control room staff, maintenance and operations specialists. They are Britain’s hidden heroes.”
Every 24 hours in the working week, an average of 188,500 tonnes of produce passes by rail over the England-Scottish border at Gretna on the West Coast main line.
Scotland does not have any deep-sea ports, so it relies on freight services on the West Coast Main Line to keep supermarket and high-street shop shelves stocked.
The replacement of Euxton Lane junction will make the railway more resilient and less prone to faults.
To prioritise freight and journeys for people who cannot work from home, a reduced timetable is currently running on the railway network.
Government guidelines are advising the public to only travel if absolutely essential.
People making such journeys should visit www.nationalrail.co.uk to see how rail travel could be impacted during the Easter engineering work.