The movement of timber within Wales has been carried out by road for several years partly because of the lack of a rail infrastructure and suitable train service, but also because the economical minimum distance has been regarded as 150 to 200 miles. The landscape in Wales has therefore not been suitable. However, Forestry Commission Wales discovered a new freight train – the FMU (freight multiple unit) – with much lower running costs meaning that distances of around 100 miles should become economic.
"We decided to look at whether the concept of using freight trains to transport timber would be a workable alternative to road haulage. Together with the Wales Timber Transport Forum, Network Rail and Kronospan Ltd, the UK’s leading manufacturer of high quality wood-based panels, we set about running a trial here in Aberystwyth.
For six weeks, we took trees by rail from Aberystwyth to the Kronospan mill 75 miles away in Chirk near Wrexham. Each train carried 200 tonnes of timber – the equivalent of eight lorry-loads – and made five trips each week. If this was carried out over a five-year period it would remove some 16 millions tonne kilometres of timber traffic – 4000 lorry loads of timber – from Welsh roads every year.
During the trial we were conscious that in a town with a busy passenger rail network, we did not want to cause any disruption to day-to-day travel. The FMU is able to accelerate rapidly to 75mph which is much faster than a conventional freight train, so by slotting in behind the Sprinter passenger trains leaving Aberystwyth, we were able to ensure that the single line Cambrian Line did not get blocked. The other benefit of this type of train, particularly on a railway made up of single line tracks, is that it has an engine at either end which means they don’t have to be turned around."