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Column - December 2011

Good year end for rail freight

Despite all the doom and gloom, there have been important advances for rail freight in the past month with a combination of strong Government support for rail freight in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement of 29th November and further higher traffic figures for the second quarter of 2011. Compared with the Rail Freightprevious second quarter in 2010, freight moved by rail increased by 11% in the second quarter of 2011 in all categories, except oil and petroleum. Headline figures showed coal increasing by 18.5%, metals 11%, construction 11%, international 19% and domestic intermodal 9%.

Also crucially important was the Government’s statement and policy on Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges  supporting more road/rail freight terminals, which  will unlock economic development of intermodal transfer points so that rail and road modes can play to their strengths. Planning permission for more terminals is needed to move more long-distance freight onto the railways to reduce road congestion and pollution. The Strategic Rail Freight Interchange Policy guidance (SRFIs) strongly establishes the need for SRFIs in planning, economic, environmental and safety terms and gives developers the certainty to invest 1

At the same time the Government announced £55m funding for two key schemes on the parallel rail route to the A14 between Felixstowe and the Midlands. Namely,

  • Ely to Soham double tracking which will bring passenger and freight benefits by increasing train paths and performance.
  • Syston to Stoke gauge clearance which means that container traffic bound for Scotland and NW does not have to go via Leicester or the congested part of the WCML between Nuneaton and Crewe.

Rail freight links are an important driver of economic regeneration. Both these upgrades on the rail route parallel to the A14 will relieve road congestion and accident blind spots where freight makes up to 40% of the traffic on some sections on the road route.

On December 12, the Government announced the A14 challenge to examine the whole A14 corridor and not just the section Cambridge and Huntingdon. Freight on Rail believes that it is crucial that a holistic approach examining both rail and road options are fully exploited as it is not as widely appreciated as it should be that rail freight could be a big part of the solution on the A14 corridor.

Road congestion is now costing around £24bn annually according to the Freight Transport Association; the DfT estimates the cost of congestion at £1 per lorry miles on the most congested roads. Experience with the M6 Toll shows that tolling new road capacity isn’t a realistic solution to problems on the A14 or to financing those solutions.

Rail acts as a freight bypass with each freight train out of Felixstowe removing up to 60 HGVs from the A14. Currently, rail has around 25% of the market from Felixstowe, the UK largest container port, with 29 trains going in and out of the port daily. There is considerable suppressed demand for rail out of the port because of the current limitations of the rail network. So if the stage two capacity upgrade, costing circa £150m, needed to exploit this direct route fully, were provided, 50 daily trains could operate in and out of the port each day resulting in the removal of 40 million long distance lorry miles from the A14 corridor each year, with rail’s market share increasing to around 40%.

Rail’s energy efficiency is even more important now with the high costs and sourcing problems; a gallon of diesel will carry a tonne of freight 246 miles by rail as opposed to 88 miles by road.  

Notes to editors


2. DfT Logistics Growth Review P16 para 30 £55m for the 2 schemes below

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