On 2nd January, GB Railfreight took over the running of the sand trains for Sibelco UK. They will run up to nine trains each week between Sibelco’s quarry at Middleton Towers and Guardian Industries’ UK plant in Goole as well as Ardagh Group’s UK glass sites in Barnsley and Doncaster.
On the face of it, this was just an example of one FOC, GBRf, winning business previous operated by another FOC (in this case DB Schenker). But so often, we hear news like this and think nothing of it. So I thought I would take the opportunity to share a little more information on the importance of these “sand trains” and how it affects us all.
Sibelco operates sites across the UK extracting and processing materials such as silica sand, ball clay, kaolin and dolomite. Sibelco’s Kings Lynn quarry is located between Middleton and Leziate, just outside Kings Lynn in Norfolk. Middleton Towers railway station closed to the public in 1968, but the railway line still exists between Kings Lynn and just past what was the Middleton Towers station as a freight-only line.
Just east of the site of Middleton Towers station, on what was the main-line to Swaffham, there is a sand loading silo that takes the silica sand from the Sibelco quarry and loads the freight wagons behind, typically, Class 66 GBRf locos.
Silica is the major ingredient in virtually all types of glass, whether in container form (bottles and jars), flat glass (windows, mirrors and vehicle glass), tableware, lighting, TV screens and optical glass.
Guardian Industries’ plant in Goole, Yorkshire is at Capitol Park, Rawcliffe Road, and is 17 miles east of the East Coast Mainline. The main freight route to the container ports of Immingham, Grimsby and Goole itself are accessed via the ECML. Capitol Park has a dedicated spur which serves Guardian Industries, and has capacity to serve the rest of Capitol Park for containers, steel and aggregates from the port of Goole.
Guardian have been producing automotive glass since they began laminating and fabricating windshields for military vehicles in Detroit, Michigan in the 1930s. Today, the silica sand from Kings Lynn is turned into vehicle windscreens, panoramic sunroofs, tailgates and the majority of vehicle glass for cars, trucks and buses. If you drive a car manufactured or assembled within Europe, there is a high probability that your car has Guardian glass. But Guardian also produces a wide variety of commercial and residential glass for applications including homes, office buildings, high-rise apartments, schools, hospitals and much more.
Ardagh’s glass plant at Burton Road, Barnsley also has its own dedicated spur, as does their plant at Long Sandall, Doncaster, south-west of Kirk Sandall station. Like Guardian Industries, we probably all use Ardagh’s glass products without knowing it. Ardagh has over a hundred facilities worldwide and produce the glass bottles and containers for brands including Coca-Cola, Carlsberg, Heineken and Pepsi, as well as Budweiser, Stella Artois, Nescafe, Heinz and even Glenfiddich.
So whilst a short piece of rail freight news such as GB Railfreight winning the Sibelco contract can easily pass us by, it is interesting to pause to consider what it means to us, and what a difference the rail freight in the UK can make to our lives, and particularly to things we take for granted. GBRf runs trains from Kings Lynn with wagons filled with silica sand which make their way north to Goole, Barnsley and Doncaster to create the glass in our vehicles and the bottles and jars for our drinks and food.
I raise a glass to the drivers and crew at GBRf, and long may the UK’s rail freight industry provide a critical service in the production of glass in the UK.