Millbrook Freightliner Terminal

This was one of a series of what became known as "Freightliner" terminals, which began proliferating in the late 1960s. In the March 1963-published The Reshaping of British Railways report, the concept of the "Liner Train" arose as a method of freight conveyance that could replace the traditional goods consist. Trains of continuously-coupled chassis vehicles, capable of a maximum speed of 75-MPH and a gross load of up to 680 tons, would carry freight within removable containers, the latter of which could seamlessly be interchanged between railway wagon and road transport. The containers would be able to carry load combinations over long distances that, at the time, were transported in traditional wagons that had become loss-making for the railway. The container method meant that wagons were no longer held up at marshalling yards, given that the body and chassis could easily be separated, and loading and discharge of goods was much quicker. In addition to making British Railways’ (BR) existing freight offering profitable, the "Liner Train" concept also sought to capture traffic not carried by rail at that time.

The term "freight-liner" started to appear in the media in 1964. In September of that year, newspapers reported that the scheme had hit trouble, for the unions opposed private lorries using BR goods yards. This was pivotal to the success of the scheme and Dr Richard Beeching — the then Chairman of the British Railways Board — stated that unless loading depots were open for use to all lorries, he did not want to move forward with the "freight-liner" project of high-speed goods trains (ref: Daily Mirror, 23rd September 1964). In spite of these troubles, the name "Freightliner" was unveiled as part of the rebrand to "British Rail" (BR) in January 1965, and the first service ran on 15th November of that year between Glasgow and London (ref: The Railway Magazine, July 2006).

In 1967, the Minister of Transport approved the construction of a Freightliner terminal in the Southampton suburb of Millbrook, at a cost of £250,000 (ref: The Railway Magazine, August 1967). The site selected was that of Millbrook station’s goods yard, which was positioned on the northern side of the main line running between Southampton and Bournemouth. Closure of this yard to public goods traffic was effective on and from 17th July 1967 (ref: Clinker’s Register, 1980), and the terminal was scheduled to open in December of that year and occupy a ten-acre site.

Millbrook Freightliner Terminal came into use later than expected, on 29th January 1968; the first train to depart was the 17:39 to Stratford, London. A second service flow started from the terminal on 5th of the following month, going to Birmingham and Newcastle, with further trains planned in the future to serve Manchester, Liverpool, and Scotland (ref: The Railway Magazine, March 1968). At 01:05 on 16th December 1968, the first of a special run of Freightliner trains carrying bananas left Millbrook for Dudley, West Midlands (ref: RCTS Railway Observer, February 1969).

Two "Goliath" rail-mounted cranes were in use at the terminal from the outset, spanning three parallel-running tracks and a single road lane. The latter allowed lorries to park immediately adjacent to the tracks for loading and unloading of containers, these of which were built to the requirements dictated by the International Standards Organisation (ISO). In the October 1967 edition of The Railway Magazine, a piece on the then new Freightliner terminal at Willesden remarked that the rail-mounted cranes at that site were designed by "Herbert Morris Limited" in close collaboration with BR engineers, and built at the former’s works in Loughborough, Leicestershire. Additionally, it was noted that the lifting frames were designed by BR, these of which were built at Doncaster. The cranes could lift 30-tons and were adjustable for containers of 10-foot, 20-foot, 30-foot, and 40-foot length. It seems reasonable to assume that these details also applied to the cranes that were commissioned at Millbrook.

As a result of the "Transport Act" of 1968, "Freightliner Limited" became a company in its own right, operating as a wholly-owned subsidiary of BR. In 1972, another Freightliner terminal opened less than half a mile west of Millbrook as the crow flies, by the name of "Southampton Maritime". The latter is situated on the southern side of the Southampton to Bournemouth main line.

On 10th October 1988, the "Speedlink" division of BR’s "Railfreight" brand and "Freightliner Limited" were merged to become "Railfreight Distribution". The merger aimed to improve the financial standing and operational efficiency of the two erstwhile separate operations. In 1995, Freightliner was detached from Railfreight Distribution as part of the privatisation process and became "Freightliner (1995) Ltd". The business was sold to a management buy-out consortium and was formally handed over to its new owners at Euston on 29th May 1996 (ref: The Railway Magazine, July 1996). The company adopted the trading name "Freightliners Ltd".

Millbrook Terminal: 2007

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

May 1977

Class 47 No. 47288 — still possessing head code indicators in the cab front ends — is seen underneath one of the terminal’s “Goliath” rail-mounted cranes. The container at an angle, just to the right of the crane, wears the original grey livery, complete with red stripe and white text, that was launched at the start of the “Freightliner” project in 1965. © David Glasspool Collection

5th August 1994

A westward view from the footbridge at Millbrook station shows both “Goliath” cranes, one of which is in the process of moving a container. Class 150 “Sprinter” No. 150219 is seen passing with what is likely to be a service to Southampton Central from Bristol Temple Meads. © David Glasspool Collection

5th August 1994

The pair of tracks on the far left of another westward view, also from Millbrook station footbridge, provide access to Southampton Western Docks. The middle pair of tracks are the “down” Fast and Slow, and the final pair, on the right, the “up” Slow and Fast, with 4 CIG No. 1739 approaching. © David Glasspool Collection

5th August 1994

In the background, resplendent in the two-tone grey livery of Railfreight Distribution, is Class 47 No. 47095. This locomotive had been named “Southampton WRD Quality Approved” at Millbrook on 19th April 1994, in recognition of the wagon repair depot at nearby Southampton Maritime Freightliner Terminal gaining a formal British Standard accreditation of quality assurance. Class 158870 is likely on a Cardiff Central to Portsmouth Harbour service. © David Glasspool Collection