On the Right Track: 20 Years at DIRFT

“Rail freight makes an important contribution to our economic and environmental well-being,”
said Paul Maynard MP, in a recent Department of Transport statement to Parliament. And as it reaches its 20th anniversary, Prologis RFI DIRFT proves that the UK rail freight sector is thriving.

Dr Richard Beeching first identified rail freight as critical to the future of the national railway system in his 1963 report, ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’. Recognised by many in the industry as a rail freight visionary, Beeching advocated the use of high capacity trains that could be loaded with containers for long-distance haulage. However, it was only after rail privatisation and the opening of the Channel Tunnel in the 1990s that the first road-rail intermodal terminals were built.

The Early Days

The Daventry International Rail Terminal (DIRFT), one of the earliest of these new developments, was originally designed to handle freight in transit to and from the Port of Felixstowe and the Channel Tunnel. A 364 acre logistics park with planning permission for around 4 million square feet, the first phase of DIRFT included a rail terminal to operate on the electrified West Coast Main Line.

By the time DIRFT was officially opened in November 1997 by HRH The Princess Royal, the rail terminal was fully operational and the first building, a 475,000 square foot facility for Eddie Stobart, was complete.

Less than 10 years later, when Prologis secured a holding in DIRFT, the original 364 acre site had been built out and at the rail terminal, container traffic was increasing year on year. In short, growing number of companies were realising that it is faster, more cost-effective and more environmentally-friendly to transport goods by rail than by road.

DIRFT terminal

Phase Two

We became owners of the rail terminal and a 130 acre expansion site at DIRFT when we acquired Severn Trent Property Ltd in 2006. We started developing the phase two land in 2010, with an 840,000 square foot national distribution centre for Tesco. This was followed by a 1 million square foot general merchandise distribution hub for Sainsbury’s and a 420,000 square foot intermodal hub for Eddie Stobart. By 2015, the second phase of the development, which was now known as Prologis RFI DIRFT, was complete.

All three phase two buildings are rail-connected and the process of linking the new rail infrastructure to the existing freight line was complex. We linked the Tesco facility to the rail terminal on the original site through a 20 metre rail tunnel that we built under the A5 trunk road. While for Sainsbury’s, which has its own intermodal facility, we adopted a different approach. We built a bridge across the A428, so that we could extend the existing freight line to a railhead beside the new distribution centre.

Sainsburys terminal

This extended line will also serve the third phase of Prologis RFI DIRFT, carrying on to a new bridge over the A5 and onwards to a new rail terminal that will be part of the latest stage of the development.

Third Phase

In 2014, the Planning Inspectorate granted Prologis a Development Consent Order for a further 7.8 million square feet of rail-served logistics space at DIRFT. The site, which lies to the north of the first two phases, will see the regeneration of the former BT Rugby Radio Station site, which also includes the Sustainable Urban Extension to Rugby that will deliver 6,200 new homes, now under construction.

Work on the third phase is moving forward. The initial stage of infrastructure – providing building plateaux, access roads and full servicing – is complete and the first two logistics buildings, which total 520,000 square foot, are under construction. At the rail estate freight trains now run to and from Barking, Coatbridge, Felixstowe, Grangemouth, Mossend, Southampton and Wentloog. However, the next phase will include a new terminal that will offer customers even more capacity for intermodal rail freight as an alternative to road haulage.

The Future

DIRFT has come a long way since 1997 and we have every confidence that the next 20 years will be just as successful. Dr Beeching’s legacy is a rail freight sector that can transport cost-effectively, helping to tackle road congestion and reduce the environmental impact of haulage. At Prologis RFI DIRFT, we are helping to make sure that his vision meets the operational needs of our customers today – and as the logistics sector grows increasingly complex – for the future.

By Phil Oakley