It’s hard to imagine now but a century ago the Calder valley line would have been a main freight artery carrying hundreds of thousands of tons of coal for use within the UK and for export via Liverpool docks. Now, the traffic has disappeared (along with all the collieries) with just a single coal train running on the route. In fact, freight traffic of all sorts has dried up. On weekdays between 06:00 and midnight the following services traverse the valley.

Preston Docks – Lindsay empty bogie tanks (runs as required Mon – Fri)
Immingham-Fidlers Ferry loaded coal hoppers & return empties (runs as required between Tues-Fri)
Scunthorpe – Pendleton steel slag in bogie hoppers & return empties (runs on a Friday only – as required)
Seaforth – Tinsley empty steel train (runs on a Friday only – as required)

However, all this is about to change, thanks to ‘King Coal’s’ replacement – wood chip biomass….

Energy giant Drax has signed a deal with port owner Peel Ports which will see Liverpool handle up to three million tonnes of wood pellets a year. The pellets, which are a by-product of the commercial forestry and saw-milling industry will be imported from North America.

All of the wood pellets will be sent to Drax by rail from Liverpool as the biomass terminal will include its own rail loading facility and storage capacity for 100,000 tonnes. The cost of the new terminal is estimated at £100 million and the facility opened this month. It will become fully operational from July 2016 when it will be able to facilitate up to ten train loads of pellets to be sent to Drax per day.
A three year contract to run the trains has been won by operator GBRf.

The route taken will be a circuitous one from Liverpool via Warrington, Northwich, Altrincham, Stockport and Rochdale, then via the Calder Valley and on to Wakefield & Knottingley to Drax.

Here’s a report from the Liverpool Echo on the opening of the terminal & first train.

On their Facebook page GBRf announced that “initially 13 trains per week will run, increasing to 23 trains per week sometime in mid 2016” The trains will be using some of the 200 high capacity biomass wagons that Drax purchased in 2013. These have a capacity of 116 m3, which Drax says is nearly 30% more than other UK wagons. The payload of the wagons is 72 tonnes with a gross laden weight of 102 tonnes. The wagons are capable of being hauled at 75mph.

As a precursor to this service one train a day (each way) is already running Monday – Thursday. Some 50 kt of biomass will be moved from Liverpool to Drax over the next few weeks, although this will be carried in GBRf’s own biomass wagons. The empties run from Drax to Liverpool overnight with the loaded service passing through the Calder valley each evening (passing Sowerby Bridge at 2235).

The new flow is a welcome reversal of the fortunes of freight in the Calder valley, let’s hope more services follow.

I’ll add some illustrations of the wagons & trains as soon as I can. Right now WordPress seems to be playing up & won’t let me!