FREEWHEELING trains in the Colne Valley are proving recession-busters.

Drivers are cutting off one or two of their locomotive’s three engines to save fuel on the downhill stretches between Marsden and Huddersfield.

And the scheme to cut fuel use and lower carbon emissions is proving so successful that train operator First TransPennine Express has saved 10 million litres of diesel, worth £5m, since introducing its Eco-mode initiative four years ago.

The fuel saved each year by the company’s 51 Class 185 three-carriage trains like those running through Huddersfield is sufficient to power its smaller fleet of nine Class 170 two-carriage trains.

The Class 185 trains were built for the First TransPennine Express network in 2006 and burn around 26 million litres of fuel each year.

The manufacturer, Siemens and First realised the routes with steep gradients could be used to make economies.

Each locomotive has now been modified so their diesel engines operate differently on different parts of the network.

When running up a gradient the trains will use all three engines to draw full power.

Running down an incline, one or more of the engines can be shut down temporarily to avoid providing power that is not needed.

When trains are not in service and are being moved to and from their maintenance depots they run on just one of the three engines and similarly if a train is standing in a station for more than a few minutes then the engines are turned off rather than left idling.

The company’s train drivers also play their part in cutting fuel consumption and exhaust emissions by tailoring their driving style to suit the terrain, with smoother acceleration and braking.

A spokesman said: “The stretch from Marsden to Huddersfield is in reality quite a steep gradient and it is ideal for the engine cut-off scheme. It is perfectly safe and is working very well”.

Nick Donovan, engineering director of First TransPennine Express, said: “Rail travel is rightly regarded as being environmentally friendly, but it’s important that we still continue to find ways to lessen the impact of running our diesel trains.

“We are delighted with the progress we have made so far which has been an engineering innovation and a great example of how our drivers have become more aware of their driving style and risen to the challenge of cutting our fuel consumption in a big way.

“So far the whole initiative has saved enough fuel to run the class 170 fleet for the next four years so effectively we are using less fuel to run more services”.

The Class 185 trains run on all First TransPennine Express routes and the Class 170s run mainly between Cleethorpes, Sheffield and Manchester Airport and between Hull and Manchester.