DRS have been running a trial workers’ train between Carlisle and Sellafield, in an effort to reduce congestion on the A595 to and from Sellafield.
Sellafield nuclear plant is the biggest employer in West Cumbria, with over 10,000 people employed at Britain’s largest nuclear size, covering 6 square kilometres on the remote Cumbrian Coast. Though Calder Hall nuclear power station is in the process of decommissioning, having been taken off-line in 2004, the site has over 1000 nuclear plants involved in nuclear decommissioning, reprocessing and nuclear waste management, making it the largest concentration of nuclear power expertise in the UK.
Work at Sellafield is ultimately overseen by the government-owned Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the owner of freight operating company Direct Rail Services. Unsurprisingly, DRS’ main role is the transport of nuclear waste from all British nuclear power stations to Sellafield, in order for the waste to be reprocessed and disposed of safely.
In recent years, DRS have expanded their operations into the passenger sector, running their first passenger trains in 2007. Since then, they have operated the award-winning emergency flood-relief shuttle train between Workington and Maryport for six months over the winter of 2009/2010 and worked additional crowd-busting shuttles for the Hartlepool Tall Ships event in August 2010. The company also currently holds the contracts to work Cruise Saver Travel’s Ocean Liner Express trains and the prestigious Northern Belle, one of the trains operated by the Venice-Simplon Orient Express.
Since January 9, DRS have been running a trial workers’ train between Carlisle and Sellafield, running in both the morning and evening peaks, calling at all stations bar Flimby, Nethertown and Braystones. In the mornings, this train has been replacing a Northern Rail unit between Whitehaven and Sellafield, which has instead started at Sellafield in its usual path, though this has meant that the new DRS service has had to continue on to Barrow-in-Furness for the small number of passengers not travelling to Sellafield.
The return working, at 1648 from Sellafield to Carlisle, fits within a gap in the Northern Rail timetable of nearly two hours. The train has normally returned from Barrow to Sellafield earlier in the day as empty coaching stock, recessing in the sidings at Sellafield.
The train has drawn great interest from enthusiasts due to the virtue of it being four loco-hauled Mk. 2F carriages of 1970s vintage, hauled by first a Class 37/4 (37409 Lord Hinton or 37423 Spirit of the Lakes) and then a Class 47, 47810 Peter Bath MBE.
The three 64-seat tourist standard open coaches in the formation have been reserved for Sellafield workers, while the fourth coach, the brake standard open, is available for use by passengers not travelling to Sellafield. The train operates on DRS’ safety case, using their locomotives and four coaches hired in from Riviera Trains.
DRS also provides the train’s driver and guard, while Northern Rail provides a conductor to deal with the passengers onboard. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, a trolley refreshment service has been provided by the Friends of the Settle & Carlisle Line.
The main reason for the trial is to gauge the interest that Sellafield workers have in commuting by train. It is pleasing to note that the train has been carrying in the region of about 100 passengers most days, and many of these are “new-to-rail” customers.
The fares are good value when compared to the equivalent journeys made by car, and journey times, particularly from Whitehaven, are much faster than a crawl along the A595 during the rush hour, when thousands of cars are converging on Sellafield. It is understood that Sellafield Ltd., operators of the site, have been financing the trial.
They are very keen to remove all cars from the site at Sellafield, due to changes in the site security systems, though the current park and ride car park at nearby Yottenfews is limited in its capacity, and the current Northern Rail trains serving Sellafield at shift change times are all already full and standing.
The trial finishes on Friday February 17th, for a twelve week consultation period. It is very important that funding is forthcoming in extending the running of the train – not only for the many rail enthusiasts who will be drawn to West Cumbria to ride on the train or photograph it, but to ease the immense strain put on the local road infrastructure daily, by the sheer number of vehicles converging on Sellafield every morning.
All images copyright Eliott Anderson.