On the wagon

Harlow based Rail Freight Services in the UK is unloading five trains of London clay a day, each wagon weighing up to 70 tonnes each, with the help of a bespoke Volvo excavator equipped with re-handling equipment. 

Northfleet in Kent is a town in the Borough of Gravesham in England. Its name is derived from its location on the northern reach of what was once called the River Fleet. It has been the site of a settlement on the shore of the River Thames since Roman times. 

Specialized handling company, Rail Freight Services, has been contracted to manage a long term project unloading rail wagons carrying London Clay. The clay is well known for containing fossils from the Lower Eocene period – ranging from 33 to 65 million years ago and is stiff, bluish clay that turns brown when weathered. It’s used commercially for making bricks, tiles and coarse pottery. Each rail wagon contains approximately 65-70 tonnes of clay and in 2013 the company unloaded in excess of one million tonnes at Northfleet. 


The clay comes directly from the UK’s largest tunneling project in London and once it’s received at the Northfleet site, it’s transported to a stockpile area. The clay is then placed in stockpiles, depending on the arrival of another train. The company is using two Volvo L150G-Series wheel loaders to load the materials to the waiting rail wagons at the tunneling site in central London. Each load is weighed using the machines’ onboard weighing tool to ensure the maximum capacity is carried by each train, whilst ensuring not to overload the trains maximum permitted weight.

After the clay is off loaded it’s tested to ensure it’s free of any contaminants then once clearance has been given, the material is loaded onto vessels and shipped along the South coast and deposited at Wallasea Island – a large land raise project, which once completed will be a bird reserve for The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The clay will be used to create the UK’s most ambitious man-made coastal nature project and will guarantee a place for tens of thousands of migratory birds and combat the threats from climate change and coastal flooding. 

Always on the wagon

Rail Freight Services based in Harlow, Essex, specializes in the loading and unloading of railway wagons and waterborne vessels, servicing clients operating within the rail and marine industry. Initially founded in 1975 trading as Yeoman Plant the Company was renamed Rail Freight Services in 1998 to meet the specialist requirements of the rail and marine logistics industry. 
Rail Freight Services has a dedicated core team of 10 people, its own mobile maintenance technicians and over 75 operators. All of its equipment is custom-built and designed for specific operations.

A Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) EC480D-Series excavator has been supplied to Rail Freight Services with bespoke re-handling equipment modified, designed and engineered by Kocurek of Ipswich –– the creator of bespoke excavators, built especially for the company’s high reaching and transportation tasks. It has been tailored and supplied as part of a team of similar specified machines unloading up to five trains a day at a dedicated terminus located at the side of the River Thames at Northfleet.  


Raising the bar

The machine has been equipped with a 7.0m boom, a specially adapted dipper arm complete with under-slung cylinders, a 2.5 m3 Vantec re-handling grab complete with ejector bars and full rotation, and an additional 4,000kg counterweight. To provide the operator with full visibility when unloading the rail wagons, the machine also benefits from a hydraulic high rise cab with a lift height of two meters.

At the heart of the EC480D-Series excavator is a Stage IIIB V-Act 13 liter engine that reaches 348hp and is ideally matched to its automatic sensing mode hydraulic system. The machine features an automatic idling system that reduces engine speed when the levers and pedals are not activated – aiding fuel efficiency and lowering external noise. When a single function is being used, the two pump hydraulics system combines the flow of both pumps for quick cycle times and greater productivity. It can also prioritize flow according to the work being done – such as flow to the boom for faster raising when loading or to the arm during leveling or swing during large slewing angles. 

“We have a long experience operating Volvo products, which have given us a high degree of reliability and longevity – so when we decided to purchase a machine for this particular project, choosing the Volvo EC480D-Series made perfect sense,” says Jim Flatman, business manager at Rail Freight Services.

The machine has been supplied with a blue service agreement and joins 12 other Volvo excavators and loading shovels in the company’s fleet, which consists of various models of L90, L120, L150, L220 wheel loaders, EC450, EC460, EC480 excavators (all converted to materials handlers) and most recently the L150G-Series wheel loaders. The entire fleet handles more than seven million tonnes of materials annually and in total, the company owns a fleet of 50 units. The company has been a Volvo customer for more than 20 years, the current London clay project is due for completion at the end of 2014.
For further information, please contact: enquiries@railfreightservices.co.uk

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