Last year’s top prize for Freight and Logistics Achievement at the National Rail Awards was won by GB Railfreight (GBRf) for their innovative retro-fitting of a fleet of hopper wagons, developed with the help of Richard Gibney, our Professional Head for Traction and Rolling Stock. GBRf asked Richard and his team to look at how an existing fleet of open top hopper wagons could be modified to transport biomass fuel between the Port of Tyne and Drax power station near Selby. Unlike coal, biomass must be protected from the elements during transit and this called for a design that ensured the load was covered by a new set of automated top doors that could still integrate with the infrastructure at both the port and the power station. This meant, for example, providing sufficient clearance whilst the train passes through the hopper house with its top doors open. The doors themselves were required to be robust (to bear the vibrations along the tracks) yet lightweight enough for automated operation, despite the absence of a power supply to each wagon. A safety system was also needed to ensure all doors were securely closed before the train could set off. The solution was based around the use of magnetic detectors. As the train approaches the hopper house it passes a steel pillar on which a detector is fitted that triggers the top doors to open. A similar detector then closes them upon leaving. To ensure the new doors are not activated by detectors elsewhere on the network, the driver turns a key before entering the hopper house which sends a pressure signal along the rake so that the wagons are primed to open. Once loading is complete the same key then disarms them. And because the pneumatic system powering the top doors is interlocked with the brakes, the train is unable to proceed unless all wagons are securely closed. But there was still an issue to resolve upon arrival at Drax. The biomass unloads via automated bottom discharge doors in each wagon. However the wagons empty at such speed that the vacuum created could potentially damage each unit. As a result, similar detectors were installed at Drax to ensure the top doors also opened prior to unloading. This innovative design required considerable co-operation not only between our engineering and approvals teams, but also with GBRf, the power station and the port authority to ensure compatibility with standards, infrastructure and safety processes. We are proud of both the design and its part in GBRf’s rapidly growing biomass business.