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Air Braked Container Services


As the continental railways had standardised on air braked stock British stock intended for use on ferry traffic to the continent had to be equipped both with vacuum brake and air brakes. The first air braked stock for purely British use was built in 1964. First to appear was the HOP 32 AB merry go round hopper wagon (now coded HAA) followed by the small-wheeled bogie Freightliner flat wagons (now coded FFA and FGA). Both these wagon types were intended for use in specialised trades where interoperability with existing stock was not an issue.

Rather later in the development of rail services new container types came into service, intended for use in wagon load traffic services, and these new containers were increasingly provided with air braked vehicles.

More recently, following privatisation, other companies have begun to operate services transporting the ISO standard containers in direct competition with Freightliner. This section deals with the Freightliner services, the remainder are dealt with in the following section.




Freightliners

The 'Liner Train' service proposed by Dr. Beeching to operate scheduled inter-city services transporting ISO standard containers was authorised in 1964. The unions objected to the guard riding in the rear cab of the locomotive and to the idea that private road haulage firms should have access to the terminals. The arguments delayed the launch of the system for nearly a year and the first trial trains ran in late 1965 on a service between London and Glasgow. From 1965 until 1967 only British Railways owned road haulage was used and the specialised trailers and the tractors to pull them had been bought in for the job.

The name Freightliners was in use, and printed on the containers, by 1965 and in 1968 Freightliners Ltd. was established as a separate company from British Railways operating as part of the National Freight Corporation (NFC) which was essentially the less-than-wagon load railway business spun off as a separate entity in 1969. Freightliners Ltd. owned only the name, they leased the terminals, containers and container wagons from British Railways who also provided the locomotives for the trains. In 1969 the British Railways owned stock of ISO type containers were transferred to Freightliners Ltd. At this time there were 140 Freightliner train services a day serving 30 terminals.

One unusual use for Freightliner stock was a regular working to France using the train ferries in the 1970's. The wagons were modified by being fitted with securing lugs for chaining them down on the ferry. These workings are more fully discussed in the section on Freight Operations - Ferry Traffic.

In 1978 Freightliners Ltd became a wholly owned subsidiary of British Rail but they were not merged with rail freight and continued with their own management. Freightliners operate their own fleet of lorries for collecting and delivering the containers and by this time they were one of the largest inland freight haulage companies in the world. The 1978 Transport Act, which transferred Freightliners from the NFC to British Railways, included a clause specifically prohibiting Freightliners from resorting to road haulage for trunk deliveries.


Fig___ Freightliner terminal in the later 1970s

Photo of a Freightliner terminal in the later 1970s from BR publicity material


In 1988, following the general economic recession, Freightliner and British Rail Speedlink services were officially merged. The two companies were to operate in concert but there was no move toward combined management or combined trains (the only combined service I know of was a set of ten Freightliner flats which was regularly tagged on the tail of a Glasgow-London Speedlink service). In 1991 the Speedlink service was shut down following heavy losses but Freightliners were still profitable and continued to operate as before.

In 1994 Freightliners was sold to the existing management team, albeit with some politically imposed constraints on the resources it could operate and the services it could offer. The new company kept their existing containers, lorries and road trailers and became the owners of the terminals, a large fleet of railway container flat wagons and their own fleet of diesel and electric railway locomotives as part of the deal.





Freightliner Networks

The original idea behind the Freightliner service was to provide inter-city trunk hauls to relieve pressure on the roads. To boost the business Freightliners offered a flat per-container rate regardless of the value of the contents. This charging regime saw containers being used for such low value goods as steel sections and standard house bricks.

The vision of the railway system held by Dr. Beeching's team was born in an era when factories were concentrated in large towns and cities, the motorway system was still largely on the drawing board and the biggest road lorries had an all-up weight of twenty four tons. In that world the Freightliner service represented a real opportunity to reduce road congestion but in 1964, the year the Liner Train concept was given the go-ahead, the maximum permitted weight for road lorries increased to thirty two tons. By 1965 when the first ISO container train ran the motorways were spreading and making road haulage much more competitive.

Freightliner services to Belfast via Heysham began in 1967 but the English port soon changed to Holyhead and additional ferry links with Dublin were established. British Railways Shipping Division (later renamed Sealink) operated two container carrying ships on the Irish Sea trade. In 1968 the first rail served import/export Freightliner terminals opened in Southampton and then Harwich to handle containers from the Continent and farther afield. At this time the great majority of Freightliners work was internal freight haulage in the UK and most trains were loaded with Freightliners own boxes.

Soon after the transfer of Freightliners to the NFC in 1969 the pricing policy was changed dramatically. The rates generally increased and the focus shifted from bulk to quality, bringing an end to the carriage of steel and the closure of the terminal in Sheffield. Interestingly enough bricks were still carried, by this time they were moved in half-height open containers with removable sides, but these were the much more valuable 'facing' bricks. Entire train loads of bricks were moved from the brick fields of the eastern counties and midlands, enthusiasts called them 'brickliner' or 'Fletliner' trains, the containers were yellow with London Brick Fletliner on the sides, I have not yet found a photograph so I cannot attempt a sketch. This traffic remained until 1985 when the transport was switched to road.

By the 1970's industry was generally moving out into the countryside away from the rail heads and relying on the new motorways to meet their transportation needs. By this time however the ISO container was becoming the dominant mode of transportation for international trade. Large purpose built ships had entered service and British ports were handling large numbers of containers from the Far East and America as well as from Europe. The companies shipping containers from father afield have to arrange the delivery and collection of those container in the UK and Freightliners Ltd. offered just the service these firms needed.

In 1986/87 there was a major reorganisation of the Freightliner service with ten inland terminals being closed down. This rationalisation was primarily a reflection of the changing emphasis toward import/export traffic and away from UK internal services but most of the terminals that closed dated from the early days and suffered from a severe shortage of on-site storage room for containers awaiting collection. By the 1990's over 90% of Freightliners business was dealing with maritime container trade.

Fig___ Permanent Freightliner Terminals

Maps showing the freightliner terminals in early 1980's and late 1990's




Freightliner Road Vehicles

The original railway container terminals of 1965 were all operated by railway staff but the road tractors and trailers used were bought for the work. Tractors from Seddon, Dodge and AEC were coupled with a large fleet of purpose built skeletal semi-trailers. From 1967 private road haulage firms were allowed to collect and deliver from Freightliner terminals but the company maintained a large fleet of lorries and trailers in their own livery.

By the early 1980's Freightliners owned a fleet of nearly five hundred tractor units with over a thousand road trailers. In spite of the changes during the 1980's and the growing shift towards international traffic Freightliners remain one of the larger road haulage firms in the UK. At the end of the 1990's they were still operating a fleet of 238 articulated tractors and 530 road trailers. The modern Freightliner owned road trailers are themselves sophisticated pieces of equipment, some are equipped for tipping (used for discharging bulk cargo without lifting the container off the wagon). The trailers have wheels which can be moved along their length to allow a single standard trailer to safely carry containers of various sizes.




Freightliner Locomotives

Prior to 1994 Freightliners had to hire their locomotives from British Railways and there were many complaints about these engines failing to appear on schedule. Steam finally disappeared from British railways in 1969, replaced by diesel and increasingly by electric locomotives. There are rumours that photographs exist of a Freightliner train being hauled by a British Railways standard steam locomotive but to date I have not manager to trace any of these pictures.

Freightliner trains can get heavy, upwards of a thousand tons, and on some routes this required double-heading. The most common diesel engine type used was the Class 47 but when double heading was required Freightliners preferred to hire pairs of Class 37 locomotives.

As part of the 1994 management buy-out deal Freightliners got their own locomotives, forty electric Class 86 and forty nine diesel Class 47. The mixed traffic Class 47's had proved expensive to maintain and in 1997 Freightliners were talking with General Motors regarding the purchase of a fleet of the Class 66 locomotives already ordered by EWS. Maintenance costs for the existing General Motors Class 59 locomotives are about twenty percent of those for the Class 47 and the reliability of the GM locomotives means that fewer locomotives would theoretically be required. In the meantime however Freightliners have re-engined a number of the elderly Class 47s (six as of 1999), fitting them with new power plant supplied by General Motors. The modified locomotives are more powerful that the original build and are re-classified as Class 57.




Freightliner Railway Wagons

Purpose designed bogie flat wagons were built by British Railways for Freightliner traffic, originally coded Conflat E they became FFA and FGA under TOPS. These remained the property of British Railways and were only leased to Freightliners until the management buy out of 1994.

To allow them to carry eight foot high ISO containers the original Freightliner bogie flat wagons have wheels that are two foot eight inches in diameter instead of the more usual three foot one inch. This reduces the height of the body to only 37 inches (940mm) above the rail top. Freightliner wagons being less than normal height cannot have conventional buffers and couplings. Most are plain flat wagons with bolt-together combined buffer/couplings which are formed into the middle of the rake and are called 'inner' vehicles. A small number have the bolt-together buffer/coupling at one end with a raised buffer beam and conventional coupling at the other. These are called 'outer' vehicles and one is attached at each end of the rake to allow the locomotive to couple up. The outer vehicles have brake pipes fitted at the buffered ends but all other brake couplings are built into the rigid bar buffer-couplings between the wagons.

In 1964 two different types of bogie wagons were built, the first design was forty two feet six inches feet long with buckeye couplings, the second was sixty two feet six inches over headstocks and had bolted plate type couplings. The latter became the standard and only four examples of the former were built (two inner and two outer vehicles). Air operated disc brakes were fitted as standard.

Originally the bogie wagons were operated in fixed rakes of 5 wagons, but in the 1990's I have seen as few as two 'end' wagons together and groups of three seem common. The shortest Freightliner train I have so far seen comprised a single set of five wagons but in 1997 I saw a train comprised entirely of outer vehicles coupled in pairs and one train consisting of just two flats (of a more recent design with conventional buffers and couplings at each end) each carrying a single container.

The original small wheeled bogie flat wagons could carry standard eight foot high containers but when eight foot six inch high containers appeared a new wagon called a 'Lowliner' was produced. This is a four wheeled flat topped vehicle, forty feet (12191mm) over headstocks and with a twenty six foot four inch (8001mm) wheelbase. It uses the same wheels as the bogie flats but as these are fitted directly to the chassis the height above the rail is reduced to only 34.5 inches (876mm) allowing the eight foot six inch high containers to be carried. The Lowliners have drop-down ends to allow them to be used as vehicle carriers but this has not been a common use. Two sixty foot long bogie lowliners were also built, running on six wheeled bogies. These are distinctly odd looking vehicles as the bogies seem to be built into rather than mounted under the chassis. I believe the four wheeler types are TOPS coded FLA and the bogie lowliners are coded FHA.

By the 1980's problems had appeared with the original Freightliner vehicles. The increasing use of forty foot containers coupled with increasing container loadings meant that the long bogie wagon chassis were placed under uneven stress, shortening their expected working life. Freightliners began assessing the replacements for the original flat wagons in the early 1980's and there was some talk of shorter four-wheeled designs being favoured at the time.

In 1990 Freightliner invested in some French built 'Multifret' wagons which can carry containers or road-rail 'swap-bodies', the swap body is basically a road rail container configured like the trailer of a conventional articulated lorry but without the wheels. The plan was to offer 90 mph services but in the event British Railways restricted these vehicles to 75 mph. The Multifret swap-body is eight feet two inches wide, which is very wide by British railway standards and restricts the routes on which they can be carried.

In the early 1990's Freightliners bought about seven hundred new sixty foot long container bogie flat wagons TOPS coded FSA from a French manufacturer (I assume these were a different lot to the 'Multifret' type). These wagons have a raised buffer beam at one end and a lowered but otherwise conventional buffer beam at the other and operate in pairs. At this time they began mothballing the original 1960's FGA and FFA wagons. As traffic picked up in the later 1990's the older wagons were returned to service and more container flat wagons were hired in from Tiphook (the railway vehicle leasing company). By the end of the 1990's there were about seven hundred of the original FGA and FFA, seven hundred of the French built FSA bogie flats, over a hundred wagons leased from Tiphook (including 'pocket wagon' types able to transport nine foot six inch high containers) and about forty or fifty four wheeled Lowliners.

By the later 1990's almost one in five of the 'deep sea' containers were the tall nine foot six inch high type, which need to be carried on purpose built drop-centred wagons. Freightliners hired seventy five Finnish built wagons of this type from Tiphook. in the late 1980's (see Fig___).

Freightliner was one of the first to offer a British Piggyback service when in 1998 they began operating a daily service carrying specially built road semi-trailers of chemicals between Manchester Trafford Park and Tilbury. The tank semi-trailers were designed and built for this work, they resemble standard articulated lorry tank trailers but have two lifting points on each side for standard ISO container lifting gear. The wagons used were low-loading 'pocket' types which had formerly been used for pet food in Speedlink days. The wagons were originally operated by Charter rail but are now owned by Tiphook/GE Rail Services.



Freightliner Wagon Types Updated Information

The following was found on the Freightliner website. The list does not include the piggy-back wagons (at least I do not think it does) but they are not Freightliner owned stock.


FGA (outer) & FFA (inner) - Original Freightliner wagons operating in fixed train sets first introduced during the 1960's. Containers up to 8' 6'' high can be loaded onto these wagons.
FSA (outer) & FTA (inner) - Standard Freightliner wagons operating in fixed train sets introduced during 1991. Containers up to 8' 6" high can be loaded onto these wagons.
FLA - A low platform wagon introduced in 1991 and capable of carrying containers up to 9' 6'' high, operating in fixed sets. There are two types both with the same code, the inner wagons can handle containers up to 45 feet long, the outer wagons can handle boxes up to 40 feet long.
KFA - Introduced in 1998 these 60' wagons operate singly but can only carry 8' 6'' high boxes
KQA - The 'Pocket wagon' introduced in 1998 and capable of carrying containers up to 9' 6'' high, these operate as single wagons.
IKA - A low platform wagon introduced in 1999 capable of carrying containers up to 9' 6'' high on certain cleared routes, operating in fixed two wagon sets.
HHA - The HHA wagons are 4 axle Coal Hopper Bogie vehicles, with 4 automatic bottom discharge doors. All wagons are fitted with the new "track friendly" bogies.





Freightliner Containers

The containers carried by Freightliners were initially British Railways built wooden floored boxes with a smooth aluminium skin inside and out. These could be stacked two high when empty but could not be stacked when loaded. The initial designs were based on containers ten foot, twenty foot and twenty seven feet long but the longer containers had been changed to the ISO standard thirty foot by the time the service had finished its trials. The ISO standard was still evolving at the time and twenty seven feet was considered better size for road haulage than the later standard thirty feet. During the trials twenty foot long and twenty seven foot long half-height and flat open types of container were found to be stable with loads up to six feet high. Various experimental types were built, including a powder carrying tank, as the containers were not expected to be stacked this had a simple rectangular floor with no frame around the tank itself. The container cranes used long arms which engaged with pockets on the base of the Freightliner containers.

The international standard ISO containers were designed to be stacked several high on ships and were often seen stacked in yards. The ISO boxes had oval holes in reinforced corners to take 'twistlock' securing lugs, these containers can be lifted by a simple frame which rests on top of the box and engages with the top twistlock pockets. The original smooth sided British Railways built Freightliner boxes were steadily replaced with the standard ribbed sided types fitted with top-lift points on their corners by the end of the 1970's.

By this time there were a number of privately owned containers arriving at British ports but Freightliner had been set up to handle the inland movement of freight rather than imports and exports and comparatively few import/export containers were seen on the trains. The Freightliner owned containers were restricted to UK internal use only until the 1980's when they were allowed to travel on European services.

British Railways rules required a guard to be carried at the rear of the train. The standard `goods' guards vans were sometimes added to the rear of Freightliner trains but these were not designed to operate at Freightliner speeds. Some trains had a passenger brake van either at the rear or (just as often) attached behind the locomotive but this added weight and length to the rake. Freightliners tried modifying a 10 foot container to make it into a `guards van', the first of these had a simple door in each side with a raised lookout on the top. Later a purpose built unit appeared with a platform and door at one end and perspex hemisphere bubble look-outs on the sides. These were found to give a dangerously poor ride at the high speeds of the Freightliner system so from about 1967 the standard gangwayed passenger guards brake vans were used. In about 1970 an agreement with the railway unions was reached and the guard moved to the rear cab of the locomotive.

The original purpose built guards container was handed over to the National Railway Museum in 1985, the sketch below is based on a photograph of the handing over ceremony and on photographs taken when the box was in service. I remember seeing this container at the Manchester Longsight terminal in service in the 1960's, at the time it appeared terribly futuristic. There appears to have been an earlier design, based on a simple modification to the standard Freightliner ten foot box, this had a door in the side and a top mounted look-out. I have not traced any information on this unit however and the only photograph I have seen shows it sitting on the first wagon behind the locomotive during the original trails in the 1960's.

Fig ___ Prototype Freightliner 'Guards container'

Sketch of prototype freightliner guards container

By the 1970's the ISO 10 foot container was rare and 20 foot boxes were the norm with the new 40 footers becoming more popular. The 30 footers were never terribly common in international trades although Freightliners had a number of this size in their inventory. By this time there were over thirty thousand Freightliner owned boxes in service, augmented by the many thousands of privately owned ISO containers operated by companies all over the world and Freightliners Ltd. was the biggest overland freight haulage company in the world.

The international trade in containerised goods was growing steadily and Freightliners Ltd. was soon an important player in the British end of the market. Much of this trade operates to and from the Far East and America, the so-called 'deep sea' traffic, and it was impractical for Freightliners to enter into the world wide container leasing business. As the emphasis of the business shifted from UK internal trunk hauls to import/export traffic they began winding down the number of boxes they operated.

By the early 1980's Freightliners owned just over five and a half thousand assorted box and flat top containers of 10, 20, 30 and 40 foot design. They also owned a number of 30 and 40 foot curtain sided containers and about this time they began allowing their containers to move abroad to Ireland and the continent. By the end of the 1980's there were still a number of Freightliner owned containers in service but over the following decade these were either sold off or scrapped and by about 1998 the last of these had been withdrawn from service.

Freightliners remain closely involved with developments in containerisation and in 1999 they unveiled a new type of container jointly developed with a company called Car Rac. The prototype can carry six small modern cars and is intended for small deliveries to dealers and the like rather than bulk movement.

Fig___ Car Rac

In about 2002 a new container size appeared, at 45 feet long this offers some theoretical advantages to the shipper (and they are already in service) however on British roads these containers tend to make life difficult for the delivery drivers.

In the 1970's Freightliners introduced a computer system for keeping track of the containers in their care. Called COPS it is broadly similar in principle to the TOPS system used by British Railways. The Freightliner locomotives and wagons are of course covered by TOPS but Freightliners customers are more interested in the whereabouts of their containers and COPS has the facility for direct access by subscribers.




Freightliner Livery

The original Freightliner container livery was light grey with a red band bearing the word Freightliner and the British Rail double arrow logo in white. The double arrow logo was always toward the door-end with the word Freightliner toward the non-door end on both sides of the box. This made it easy for staff to see which end had the doors which was important when they were being placed on road lorries for a local delivery. The red band was continued across the ends of the containers. The only lettering on the ends of the containers was the number in the upper right corner.

The standard livery for Freightliner owned containers in the late 1980's was officially 'grey with a smaller self adhesive panel towards the upper left corner bearing the Freightliner logo in white on a red background' but I have not been able to trace any photographs of this livery. The liveries shown below are all taken from photographs from the early 1980's.

In late 1998 Freightliner adopted a new livery of dark green with the Freightliner name in yellow, the triangular logo remains as the 'dot' above the 'i' in Freightliner. This livery was applied to the prototype Car Rac container shown above as well as the Freightliner locomotive fleet. The ends of the locomotives remain yellow.

Fig___ Freightliner Container Liveries

Selection of freightliner container liveries

From the available illustrations the road tractor units seem to have been painted in a white livery with the British Railways 'door to door' logo on the door. The associated trailers had what appear to be white sides with black lettering. In 1966 the road vehicles owned by British Railways were transferred to National Freight Carriers and were progressively re-liveried for that company but in 1967 Freightliners began operating their own fleet of articulated tractor/trailer units. Also in 1967 an agreement was reached with the unions to allow road haulage contractors to bring their lorries into the Freightliner terminals. The 'open terminal' proved to be one of the cornerstones of the success of Freightliners.

The Freightliners Ltd triangular red logo was introduced in 1969 and was combined with a light grey body and the word Freightliners in black. This logo was used on both containers and on the Freightliner fleet of road vehicles. In 1980 the road lorries had a white and red colour scheme as shown below but by the mid 1980's this had changed with the triangular shape inverted. The triangular logo can slope either way and on the lorries the higher end was at the rear of the cab on both sides.

The 1999 Freightliner lorries are in a their new colours to match the locomotives with a yellow front and partial yellow sides and the rest in green. The new yellow on green logo is displayed on the front of the lorry and also on the yellow part of the sides.

Fig___ Freightliner owned lorry liveries

Freightliner lorries showing liveries used

When I visited the Manchester Freightliner terminal in 2007 the tractor units were all over yellow with Freightliner in green and the trailers were green with the word Frightliner in yellow on the side. A photograph of one of these modern units will be found below. Freightliners have always had a reputation for quality and certainly all the vehicles and equipment on view in 2007 were very clean and presentable and the staff all smartly turned out in their green uniforms.




Freightliner Terminals

The size of the ISO container is close to the limit for the British loading gauge so Freightliner services operate only on restricted routes serving specially equipped terminals at the ports and major cities. The first Welsh Freightliner terminal, at Cardiff opened in 1967 and is a typical example of the large but essentially simple yards. This terminal had three parallel tracks over a thousand feet in length separated by roadways and spanned by several container cranes. Some terminals, for example Aberdeen and Longsight (Manchester), had a set of two or three tracks at normal spacing with a roadway running along one side. The container cranes used are capable of lifting boxes from the outer track over loaded wagons on the roadside track to place them on road trailers on the roadway. The cranes used were originally Drott Travelifts, running on small pneumatic tyres. Gantry cranes running on pneumatic tyres are usually referred to as RTG's or Rubber Tyred Gantries. These were supplemented by heavy rail-mounted 'Goliath' gantry cranes in the larger terminals. The early Freightliner containers were designed to be lifted using lifting points on the base, the cranes used had long arms which could fold upwards as the moved over the container then lower down to hook onto the box. As the ISO standard became established and stackable containers became the norm these cranes had new top-fastening lifting frames fitted.

To move the containers about within the terminal the hydraulic 'straddle carrier' was commonly used but these were subsequently replaced by large fork-lift type vehicles (see under Materials Handling - Containers for more information on straddle carriers and fork lift trucks).

By the early 1980's there were thirty seven purpose built ISO container terminals in use two thirds of which were operated by Freightliners. The remainder are operated by third parties such as 'Containerbase' who have arrangements with customs and excise for local clearance of containers for 'TIR' services (see under International Road Haulage).

The original terminals built for Freightliner traffic were often quite small, which is handy from a railway modelling point of view but in the event proved something of a problem for the company. The operational nature of ISO container traffic has been different from earlier experience, the containers themselves are plentiful and cheap, so they often end up stacked up in yards for days at a time awaiting collection and delivery. This told against the small original yards, built on the experience of earlier systems where the railway owned containers were themselves relatively valuable and were generally subject to a rapid turn round to keep demurrage costs to a minimum.

The terminal at Longsight south of Manchester had two sidings, each capable of holding about fifteen Freightliner flat wagons fed from a head-shunt. The containers are usually handled by a mobile gantry crane fitted with a lifting frame which engages in the twist-locks on the top corners of the container. The Longsight terminal had the two loading tracks inset into concrete with one lorry road up the centre and another to one side, the crane bridged both tracks and both roads.

Fig ___ Freightliner Terminal
Freightliner terminals

The problem with modelling a full container depot is simply one of size. The standard Freightliner flats operated in fixed rakes of five wagons, you should have ten for a convincing train load, and that adds up to about five feet or just over 1.5m of siding space. Added to this is the head shunt (I have not yet seen a track plan consisting of through-loops, although there may have been some) which even in the lower example shown above (assuming the rakes are broken into five wagon cust for shunting) needs to be long enough for five wagons and a loco, say three feet or 1m. Allowing for point work you will need, in British N, about 10 to 13 feet of length for the terminal, although the depth can be kept down to about a foot (30cm).

By the 1970's the lack of storage space in the original small yards was becoming a problem, resulting in the closure of many of these yards in the mid 1980's.

Freightliners Ltd. has increasingly concentrated on the import/export container business and they have regularly laid on additional services to ports where container shipments are arriving even when these do not have an associated Freightliner terminal. Inland they have also operated services to ad-hoc terminals where freight flows justify the cost of setting up a temporary crane. The Ministry of Defence made use of these temporary services, some of which remained in use for several years.

In the early 1980's there was some interest in self powered crane wagons that can convert any two track yard into an instant, low cost, container depot. A West German firm had built such a unit which was also capable of transporting a single forty foot container and this was brought to Britain for trials. A British firm subsequently built a prototype of a similar machine (not able to carry containers).

The self powered container crane wagon was not adopted, although the vehicle was later used as the basis for a number of track maintainence units, and the smaller yards are usually equipped with conventional container gantry cranes (usually the rubber tyred gantry or RTG type).

Modelling one of these smaller terminals is a more practical proposition, allowing short rakes of perhaps five wagons to run into a single siding with a single RTG crane standing on concrete pads in a fixed position. There are no 'standard' track plans for such a terminal, anywhere with space for the crane and road lorry access could be used, and these do not have the large stacks of containers on-site.

The sketch below shows such a small crane, similar in size although different in design to the original Freightliner crane at the Manchester Ardwick yard (see photos below), and shows the grapple arms in the lowered position (these are used these days for 'flat' containers and for road-rail semi-trailers and swap bodies).

Fig___ Small Freightliner type Container Crane

Sketch of a smaller type of gantry crane used for Freightliner ISO container services

Vollmer offer the only really convincing RTG type container handling crane in N (kit number 7905) which is suitable for use on layouts from the 1960s to date.

Phillip Holmes was able to advise that the small container terminal within the Trafford Park Industrial Estate and operated by Containerbase (a firm specialising in TIR international containers) was still using older gantry cranes.Two of the cranes are of a fairly old design, similar to those formerly used in the former Freightliner terminal at Longsight. On a rather dark early spring morning I was able to obtain several photographs of these cranes, Ian Mackay was able to rescue these to produce useable pictures.

The containers are stacked around the yard, handled by rather large straddle carriers. I would estimate these can lift the boxes onto stacks about four containers high. There are presumably other container handling cranes in the yard as several of the stacks have no 'path' for the straddle carrier legs between the stacks, indicating they were placed using either a big 'fork lift' type crane or by a more modern 'reach stacker'. Non of these were evident on the day the photographs were taken, but the straddle carriers were busy.

Fig___ Large straddle carrier

Photo of a arge straddle carrier used for Freightliner ISO container services in 2007

There are a total of three hydraulic gantry cranes in the yard, I believe the hydraulic gantry crane shown here is similar to the early Freightliner depot crane at Longsight, south of Manchester, note this crane is running on rubber tyred wheels not rails. There are two of this type (a normal compliment for a Freightliner depot) with a third crane of rather more modern appearance.

Fig___ General View of the Container Crane

Photo of a smaller type of gantry crane used for Freightliner ISO container services

Points to note are the double-hinges arm carrying the hydraulic hoses from the top of the gantry to the lifting frame, this folds into a Z shape as the frame is lifted. The electrical cables are suspended from a series of sliding hooks suspended from side rails. There are a total of four lifting cables in each corner of the lifting frame.

Fig___ Close up of lifting frame

Photo of lifting frame used for Freightliner ISO container services

Fig___ End view showing motors and cab

Photo of a smaller type of gantry crane used for Freightliner ISO container services, End view showing motors and cab

Fig___ End view detail of cab, note clear 'hood' on cab window

Photo of a smaller type of gantry crane used for Freightliner ISO container services, End view whowing motors and cab

The cranes used for the ad-hoc terminals are often older types and generally quite small. Some appear to have been recovered from the smaller Freightliner depots closed in the 1980's. There was such a crane operating for the RAF in Scotland in the 1980's which bore a striking resemblance to the crane at the former Manchester Longsight yard. These ad-hoc terminals are usually only provided where Ministry of Defence traffic is handled but I believe a couple of the redundant cranes were been re-sited to yards handling containers which although not ISO standard designs use the same lifting arrangements.

Modern (2007) major terminal

A subsequent expedition to Manchester located the current Freightliner terminal and the new European container terminal associated with the channel tunnel link and currently run by EWS following their acquisition of Railfreight Distribution when BR was privatised.

Points to note are the six tracks passing under the gantry, the yard is evidently double ended as the two tracks on the right are coming the other way and end at buffer stops. The yard has at least two Class 08 shunters operating, one of which can be seen in the left of the picture. The crane is running on rails, the buffer stop for the crane can be seen on the right. Note the size of the new cranes, spanning six tracks with extensions extending over a roadway two track widths to one side, three track widths to the other. This enables containers to be transferred direct to or from road to rail however a lot of containers are stacked up to four high in the yard. The lifting gear in the gantry cranes is housed in a large enclosed cabin suspended between the two side rails. The cab is suspended quite low below the lifting gear, in the red painted gantry to the right of the main legs.

Fig___ Modern Freightliner terminal

Photo of a modern Freightliner terminal, cranes span six tracks



Fig___ Modern Freightliner terminal, angle view of cranes

Photo of a modern Freightliner terminalcrane

Fig___ Modern Freightliner terminal, close up of lifting gear on cranes

Close up photo of a modern Freightliner terminal crane lifting gear

The containers are (in this new yard) handled by 'reach stackers', big beasts able to stack the boxes about six high. This must be one of the few jobs where the company car is a Ferrari.

Fig___ Modern Freightliner terminal reach stacker

Photo of a modern Freightliner terminal reach stacker container handling crane

In 2007 the Freightliner lorries were all yellow tractor units with a green trailer.

Fig___ Modern Freightliner lorry showing all yellow livery

Photo of a modern Freightliner lorry showing all yellow livery

The trailers used are all fixed length, not the older adjustable length types, but they can carry containers of various lengths, the example shown has a single 20 foot box, note how it is loaded centrally on the trailer.

Fig___ Modern Freightliner lorry carrying single 20 foot container

Photo of a modern Freightliner lorry showing positioning of a 20 foot container on the trailer

The EWS container depot is another massive enterprise, built to handle overseas traffic arriving via the Channel Tunnel. This terminal has two massive cranes of somewhat different appearance to the Freightliner type. These cranes have two heavy side rails with the lifting gear running between them and although they extend about two track widths on one side they do not extend beyond the tracks on the other side.

Fig___ Modern EWS international container terminal crane

Photo of a modern EWS international container terminal crane

The signs shown below are on the approach tracks to the container terminal, the on on the right is a stop sign before a road crossing (ungated as this is on an industrial estate), the sign on the right is at the rail entrance to the terminal.

Fig___ Modern container terminal track side signs

Photo of a modern EWS international container terminal crane




One problem for the modeller is the number of containers required for stacking your yard. Container flats wagons with less than a full load are often seen, it is quite usual to have anything up to a third of the wagons in a rake travelling empty, so you can re-deploy the commercial containers as 'clutter'. This still leaves you rather short for any but the smallest of depots however, so you need to consider the alternatives. Unpainted containers are available commercially, and these make up into very pleasing models but for a modern yard with lots of stacked boxes making your own is a lot cheaper. Standard one inch by one inch PAR (planed all round) timber is 22mm by 22mm in size. For a standard eight foot container we need something 16.5 x 16.5mm and if you have the facilities (a bench with a vice and a wood plane) you can plane down a strip of the above timber. Having produced the strip you can now cut this to length as required (giving you the option of making thirty or forty foot long containers, or even twenty seven foot early Freightliner containers, not currently available commercially).

The livery can be added using paper wrappers, the best option here is to prepare the wrapper using pre-coloured paper printed using a computer printer. Personally I would prepare a sheet with a number of these wrappers, printed twice the required size and take them to the photocopying shop where they can be reduced on the high resolution colour copier. Several copies can thus be produced enabling you to generate a large number of containers for stacking in your yard.




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