A Day in the Life of Southampton Maritime Freightliner Terminal


To get an inside view of how a modern intermodal freight terminal operates, Rail Express was given exclusive all areas access at Freightliner’s Southampton Maritime Terminal for a full 12-hour day shift on November 17.

A blue sky at Freightliner’s Southampton Maritime Terminal with a train moving along the track

All text/images by Mark Simmons.

Regular readers of Bessie’s Bulletin will know that her home depot, Freightliner’s Southampton Maritime, reached its half century this year.

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The 10-road rail terminal nestled into Southampton’s Western Docks sits next to the main line, with Redbridge to the west and Millbrook to the east, and the whole site, which is both owned and operated by Freightliner, extends to around 610,000 sq ft (equivalent to the area of nearly eight premier league football pitches).

Terminal manager Dan Prendergast, who has worked at Maritime for 15 years, looks after a team of 20 people on the 06.00-18.00 dayshift, who keep a constant flow of containers moving to/from the intermodal trains, normally hauled by Freightliner’s Class 66 and 70 locos.

A dark car park at the Freightliner terminal
It is still dark outside as staff for the day shift make their way to the Freightliner terminal, which sits within Southampton’s Western Docks complex.
The inside of an office building with various screens
Dawn is breaking as the operations team checks containers are in place or on their way, with the first inbound train due in around 40 minutes.

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At the time of the Rail Express visit, around 10 trains were expected to arrive and depart the terminal each weekday. Two gantry cranes straddle a total of eight through roads (four either side of a central hard standing staging island, with two further sidings (Roads 9&10) used to store up to 25 wagons awaiting repair/maintenance, though on the day of RE’s visit around 70 wagons were awaiting the next available slot in the wagon repair facility. A fuelling and pit area for locos is located at the Redbridge end of the site, where a shed for wagon maintenance is also located.

Up to 700 containers are processed each day (in total Maritime processes 250,000 TEUs annually) and those for outbound trains (known as ‘imports’) are brought in by the hugely tall straddle carriers operated by subcontractor DP World, which pick up boxes brought in by inbound trains (‘exports’). The gantry cranes perform up to 30 lifts per hour, though average 18-20. Freightliner operations staff meticulously choreograph this continuous movement of containers moving on and off wagons, with each container tracked by its individual ID number.

The system is largely computerised, with specialised software displaying train formations on screens, down to individual wagon numbers and container IDs. The ops team based in the office located centrally in the Terminal ensure that boxes end up in the right places and that the crane and straddle crane operators (who have screens in their cabins) have a constant supply of boxes to move.

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Freightliner terminal tracks
The first trains have now arrived and departed the terminal and three straddle carriers are constantly ferrying containers to/from other parts of the docks.

Trains can enter and exit the Terminal from either direction, but in the week of RE’s visit, inbound trains were routed in from Milbrook and outbound ones left towards Redbridge. Around 22 wagons can be serviced by the gantry cranes, but as most trains are longer (typically 36 wagons) they are often split on arrival, with half of the train shunted into an adjacent road. The process is reversed on departure. (A long-term aspiration is to extend the Terminal to avoid the need to split trains.)

A dedicated team of shunt drivers and shunters is available at all times to handle trains and move locos and wagons around the site. The loco maintenance area does not include a shed area, so while A, C and D exams are carried out on site, more complex maintenance is carried out at other Freightliner locations (such as Leeds Midland Road or Crewe Basford Hall). A team of 12 fitters works on both locos and wagons. Up to 15 locos pass through the fuel point every 24 hours, with the average 3500 litre fuel fill taking just over five minutes. The 100,000 litres of diesel fuel required each week is, ironically, delivered to Maritime by road tanker. Locos not requiring maintenance are typically turned round in approximately 45 minutes.

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A whiteboard inside an office building
Although much of the information on the trains visiting the terminal is computerised, the operations team still uses a traditional whiteboard to keep track of locos, wagons and train formations.

Class 47 No. 47830 (D1645) Beeching’s Legacy parked in the headshunt at the Redbridge end of the Terminal.
Time for a check on Class 47 No. 47830 (D1645) Beeching’s Legacy which is currently parked in the headshunt at the Redbridge end of the Terminal. The loco has been used for route learning purposes and contrasts with the ‘66s’ and ‘70s’ which form the mainstay of traction in the Terminal.

Incoming and outgoing trains are inspected by both the traffic (physical condition of wagons) and operations teams (correct loading of wagons, condition of containers). The teams’ activity is dictated by the arrival and departure of trains, with a group of morning trains moving from around 08.00 and afternoon trains between 14.00 and 16.00. Fitters maintain the wagons using a wide range of spares held on site, notably wheelsets from all of the major wagon types, which stretch away on a lengthy storage area on one edge of the Terminal. Around 178 are present in November, with capacity to store up to 300.

On our visit the first arrival of the day is 4O22, the 00.45 from Manchester Trafford Park FLT, which pulls in at 07.56 formed of 44 wagons, before it is split and unloading begins. By then many of the containers that will be back loaded onto the train are already waiting to be lifted onto the wagons.

Despite a high level of computerisation, some analogue processes remain. We join train dispatcher Tim as he prepares to inspect the 4M65 13.45 departure for Birmingham Lawley Street FLT.

Inside single road wagon shed where a pair of flat wagons are under maintenance
Inside the single road wagon shed a pair of flat wagons is undergoing scheduled maintenance. Within two hours the intermodal duo will have been replaced by another set.
Freightliner Class 66 No. 66542 at the fuelling point
Class 66 No. 66542 is at the fuelling point and maintenance area for a ‘C’ exam. Fitter Sam applies some extremely viscous grease to the buffers!

He has printed off the lists which detail every wagon and the container that should be loaded on it and we take these with us. Starting at one end of the first half we methodically check each wagon one side to ensure hand brakes are off, container numbers are correct and the boxes are properly seated in their spigots and couplers and brake pipes are securely connected. We then progress back down the other side, as Tim physically ticks off each wagon on the print-outs, noting any anomalies (there are none on this particular train) on the sheet.

Bessie leaning out the window of Class 70 No. 70007
Rail Express columnist and shunt driver Bessie eases Class 70 No. 70007 forward with the front portion of an incoming train that has been split to allow it to be moved into an adjacent road.
In the operations room, team manager Matt checks the wind speed across the Terminal. A green dot indicates all is well, though gusts from the remnants of the previous day’s storms occasionally turn the dot amber, but no adverse weather is expected today.
With the four trains of the morning already dealt with, containers are being moved for a similar number of trains arriving/departing this afternoon.

As we complete the inspection of the second portion, shunter Scott is already waiting with the train loco and first half of the train to join both together, ready for departure. Back in the office, Tim enters the train as inspected onto the system, ready for team manager Matt to dispatch it.

The last part of the day shift involves ensuring that trains and containers are in place ready for the night shift and that the Terminal is tidied up for the night. A replacement team arrives to repeat the process during the hours of darkness in a Terminal that never sleeps.

Rail Express would like to thank Terminal manager Dan Prendergast and all of the team at Southampton Maritime involved in this feature who gave freely of their time and knowledge.

Train dispatcher Tim performs a departure check on one half of the wagons that will form the 4M65 13.45 to Birmingham Lawley Street FLT. Once checks are completed the wagons are hauled forward and will be joined to the other half as soon as Tim has given it the thumbs up.
Tim checks the notice on this pair of wagons in 4M65. They are cleared to run for up to another week before being stopped for maintenance, but defective automatic brakes mean they cannot be loaded with containers until the issue has been resolved, which is likely to happen in the next few days.
Terminal manager Dan Prendergast follows up on potential new traffic leads. Part of his role is to develop new business opportunities, while ensuring the smooth operation of the whole area.
Gantry crane operator Josh arcs a container through the air as he removes containers from the 4O90 from Leeds FLT which arrived less than half an hour ago. He spends up to two hours at a time in the crane cabin.
As darkness falls, Class 66 No. 66558 arrives at the east end of the Terminal with the 4O35 09.31 from Crewe Basford Hall SSM. Shunter Scott guides the main line drivers to a stop just inside the Terminal. They detrain for a taxi shuttle to their signing off point at Eastleigh, while the next available shunt driver takes the train forward into the Terminal.
After Scott splits 4O35, the wagons are once again moved into two portions adjacent to each other and No. 66558 is then removed from the train by the shunt driver and moved onto the fuelling point. The team prepares for the handover to the night shift.

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