• West Midlands petrol arrives by rail from Humberside
  • Steel transported in and out of Wolverhampton and Stourbridge
  • Imported household goods and food arrive into Birmingham for distribution from UK’s deep-sea ports

The railway in the West Midlands and Chilterns area is carrying thousands of tonnes of freight every day to support the economy and keep Britain stocked with vital supplies.

Petrol, steel, food and white goods are just some of the materials and products being moved by rail on Network Rail’s Central route.

As part of the North West & Central (NW&C) region, which includes the West Coast main line, Central route is contributing to 188,000 tonnes of critical goods and supplies being moved by rail between London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow every day – totalling 1.13m* tonnes every week.

While passenger numbers have dropped sharply, the demand for freight remains high.

Rail freight normally goes unnoticed, often moving by night, but as Britain combats coronavirus, its importance is in sharp focus, particularly NW&C, known as the ‘Backbone of Britain.

As the coronavirus pandemic goes on, Network Rail’s priority is to keep vital supply routes, including the West Coast main line and its key arteries, open.

Critical to this are frontline specialists, such as signallers and maintenance teams, without whom the railway cannot operate.

Dave Penney, Central route director for Network Rail said: “Rail freight is more important than ever for the people and economy of Britain. Our job is to continue moving critical supplies where they’re needed – keeping supermarket shelves stocked, hospital medicine cupboards full and power stations fuelled.

“The railway’s ‘key workers’, including signallers and maintenance teams which keep the rail network open, are the hidden heroes in this national effort to support the country through this challenging time.”

Maggie Simpson, director general of Rail Freight Group, said: “The rail freight industry is working flat out to make sure essential supplies are available on supermarket shelves, that the lights stay on and that the warehouses have all the goods we need for online shopping.

“It is a real testament to all our staff, and those at Network Rail and across the railway for keeping up with changing demand and helping the whole of the UK in these difficult times.”

Across North West & Central region, freight plays a crucial role in keeping the country’s lights on.

Trains carry biomass from Liverpool docks to the Drax power station in Yorkshire, as well as petroleum from Scotland to Dalston in Cumbria and from Humberside to Kingsbury Oil Terminal in the West Midlands.

Royal Mail trains continue to take parcels and post between Wembley and Shieldmuir, Glasgow. As Scotland does not have any deep-sea ports, it relies on freight services through NW&C to keep its shops stocked.

Every 24 hours, 18,500 tonnes of bananas, pasta, loo roll and other essentials pass over the England- Scottish border at Gretna in freight trains. Next day, those goods can be found on sale in supermarkets and high street shops.

Freight companies are looking at how they can reconfigure the trains in order to get more containers per train to meet a forecast rise in demand over coming weeks and months.

The main flows and types of freight on in the West Midlands and Chilterns area are:

  • Petroleum flows Humberside to oil terminal at Kingsbury, supplying petrol forecourts across the West Midlands
  • Steel flows to Wolverhampton and Round Oak, Stourbridge
  • Steel flows through the West Midlands
  • Imported Chinese goods into Birmingham (Lawley Street, Hams Hall) and Tamworth (Birch Coppice) from the Ports (Felixstowe, London Gateway and Southampton) – consumables including white goods, food, household goods

To prioritise freight and key worker journeys, 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 check the revised train times.