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Building a bird’s nest

Volvo sanctuary

Rail Freight Services in the UK is unloading five trains of London Clay a day, each weighing 70 tonnes. The clay is being used to create a giant bird sanctuary, thanks to the help of a bespoke Volvo excavator.

UK materials handling company, Rail Freight Services, has been contracted to manage a long term project unloading rail wagons carrying London Clay. Not only is the clay well known for containing fossils from the Lower Eocene period – ranging from 33 to 65 million years ago – the stiff, bluish clay is also used commercially for making bricks, tiles and coarse pottery. It also has other uses – in this case the creation of the UK’s most ambitious man-made coastal nature project – one that will ensure a safe nesting place for tens of thousands of migratory birds and reduce the impact of climate change and coastal flooding.

The clay comes directly from the UK’s largest tunneling project in London and once it’s received by rail at the Northfleet site, it’s transported to a storage area, where it is then stockpiled.

The company is using two Volvo L150G-Series wheel loaders to load the materials to the waiting rail wagons at the tunneling site in Central London. Each load is carefully weighed using the machines’ onboard weighing tool, ensuring the maximum capacity is carried by each train, while at the same time being careful not to overload the trains’ maximum permitted weight.

Each rail wagon that rolls into the site in Northfleet, in the ancient English borough of Gravesham, Kent, contains up to 70 tonnes of clay and in 2013 alone the company unloaded in excess of one million tonnes.

When the trains arrive in Northfleet the clay is off loaded and tested to ensure that it’s free of any contaminants. Once clearance is given, the material is reloaded – this time onto vessels and shipped along the South coast and deposited at Wallasea Island, the site of the land raise project. Once completed the site will be a bird reserve for The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). In total, The Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project will require around 4.5 million tonnes of earth to be transported to the island to help create the nature reserve.

Rail Freight Services is based in nearby Harlow, Essex and specializes in the loading and unloading of railway wagons and waterborne vessels, serving clients since 1998 in the rail and marine industries. With a staff of over 75 operators and maintenance technicians, all of its equipment is custom-built and designed for specific operations.

One of these specialized machines is a Volvo EC480D-Series excavator that has been fitted with bespoke rehandling equipment. The machine has been equipped with a 7 m boom, a specially adapted dipper arm complete with under-slung cylinders, a 2.5 m3 Vantec rehandling grab, complete with ejector bars and full rotation, and an additional 4 tonne counterweight. To provide the operator with full visibility when unloading the rail wagons, the machine also benefits from a hydraulic high rise cab with a lift height of 2 m.

At the heart of the EC480D-Series excavator is a Tier 4 Interim 13 liter engine that reaches 348 hp and is ideally matched to its automatic sensing hydraulic system. The machine features an auto-idler that reduces engine speed when the levers and pedals are not activated – aiding fuel efficiency and lowering external noise. When a single function is being used, the two pump hydraulics system combines the flow of both pumps for quick cycle times and greater productivity. It can also prioritize flow according to the work being done – such as to the boom for faster raising when loading or to the arm during levelling or swing during large slewing angles.

“We have over 20 years’ experience operating Volvo products, which has given us a high degree of confidence in their machines – so when we decided to purchase a machine for this particular project, choosing the Volvo EC480D-Series made sense,” says Jim Flatman, business manager at Rail Freight Services.

The machine is being supported by a service agreement by the local Volvo dealer and joins a dozen other Volvo excavators and wheel loaders in the company’s fleet, which consists of various models of L90, L120, L150, L220 wheel loaders, EC450, EC460, EC480 excavators (all converted to materials handlers) and most recently the L150G-Series wheel loaders. The fleet handles more than seven million tonnes of materials annually and in total, the company owns a fleet of 50 units.

The current London clay project is due for completion at the end of 2014.

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