Construction traffic is the biggest growth area for UK railfreight, with millions of tonnes of material being moved every year – much of it to London and the south-east of England. Ben Jones visits one of the country’s most important locations – Tarmac’s Tunstead Quarry in Derbyshire.
Less than three miles from Buxton, hidden away from public gaze in the rolling folds of the White Peak, is one of Europe’s biggest quarries.
Every year, Tarmac’s Tunstead Quarry blasts, shovels, crushes and dispatches around six million tonnes of Derbyshire limestone to feed British industry. Of that massive total, 50% is taken away by rail in various forms.
Much of it is used for construction of new roads, housing and commercial development, and new or expanded infrastructure, such as airport runways. Tunstead also supplies crushed limestone for steel-making and chemical production and for the flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) process used to clean up emissions from coal-fired power stations, such as Drax in Yorkshire.
Within the 365-hectare complex there’s also a complete cement production plant which, even in a comparatively quiet 2018, delivered around 400,000 tonnes of product by rail.
Tunstead is served by most of the big UK railfreight operators; Freightliner has a crew depot and fueling facility on site, and employs a growing number of drivers based at the quarry, while DB Cargo also has contracts to deliver products from the site. Between eight and 10 loaded trains leave the extensive rail sidings every weekday. Even at weekends there can be up to four trains per day loading to around 1,800 tonnes each.
Services include roadstone for Bredbury and Agecroft, near Manchester; crushed limestone for Tata Chemicals (Brunner Mond, formerly ICI) in Northwich; and Tata’s lime plant at Shap in Cumbria. The latter is then moved again by rail to Tata’s Port Talbot plant in South Wales for use in steel-making.
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