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Column - February 2019 

Rail network must work for both passengers and freight.

The Rail Review has been billed as the biggest such exercise since rail privatisation and could have far ranging implications for rail freight. The Review is a chance to rethink not just the structure and operation of the railways, but the role it plays as a modern transport network, supporting communities and the economy.

Understandably so farthe public debate has centred around passenger services, but we must have a rail network that works for both passengers and freight. That’s why it is crucial that freight is not forgotten in the debate around fares and franchising so that this vital nationwide service can thrive.

The Government’s vision is ‘for the UK to have a world-class railway, working as part of the wider transport network and delivering new opportunities across the nation’.Rail freight's socio-economic benefits are considerable; it plays a crucial role supporting port and shipping operators, manufacturers, retailers and construction companies across the country and we have been working with the National Infrastructure Commission Freight Study to highlight the value of freight to the UK economy. Rail freight’s value could grow further still if the demand for increased consumer and construction traffic could be met with more capacity on the network.

Rail freight photoWe believe that the lack of alignment between Government policies for heavy goods The Government's lack of alignment between policies for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and rail freight disadvantages the latter. This lack of intermodality was acknowledged in the Department for Transport (DfT)Ports Connectivity Study so we welcome the planned setting up of cross modal freight functions in the DfT.We recommend an integrated multi-modal freight plan with clear outcomes on the environment, clean air and reducing congestion. This lack of consistency is apparent in government policy towards the environment. Both road and rail freight have to deal with the power to weight issues when considering the use of alternative fuels to diesel.The Government has banned diesel-only traction for freight locomotives from 2040, but has not banned diesel HGVs. This is damaging to rail freight because at the same time the Government has halted rail electrification,which offers the proven technology and the best solution for reducing air and CO2 pollution, increases rail capacity and reduces maintenance costs.So,the Government needs to recognise the importance of investing in further rail electrification. In the meantime, until further electrification comes on stream, the DfT needs to support the rail freight industry in researching new alternative fuels and measures to reduce emissions from existing locomotives.

New developments and services on the network show the vital importance of ports and terminals to rail freight; more rail/road transfer points are needed if rail freight is to play its full role in reducing road congestion and carrying freight in a safer more sustainable way. Terminals reduce the transhipment costs between the modes and let both modes play to their strengths.

The latest rail freight interchange at IPort, at Doncaster,which is the first inland strategic rail freight interchange (SRFI) built in the past ten years, despatched its first train service between Doncaster and Southampton in mid-September. IPort, which is a state of the art multi-modal rail terminaland can handle six trains a day, connects to the East Coast Mainline, is located next to the M18 and is within two hours of the East Coast’s deep-water ports. 

The proposed Four Ashes Strategic Rail Freight Terminal, near Wolverhampton is proceeding through the planning system. Crucially, it is adjacent to junction 12 of the M6 with direct access to the West Coast Mainline which has the capability to carry the large 9ft 6in containers. 

Eddie Stobart has launched a new consumer products service linking London ports by rail to central Scotland in its first train service connecting the port of Tilbury to Tesco’s site at Daventry for onward rail connection to Mossend in Scotland.There is also a new rail freight terminal at Anglesey,which can handle six trains a day to cater for the tendaily ferries to and from Ireland.

Teesport already has a daily rail freight container service to Scotland. Network Rail and Tees Valley Combined Authority are undertaking a £1millionstudy to investigate ways at improving the region’s rail freight network,including expansion to the rail freight capability to and from Teesportwith the aim of allowing freight to use more direct routes and carry more containers on each train.

As part of the Great North Rail project Network Rail has invested £18millionto lengthen a freight siding at Buxton to allow trains to carry almost 50 per centmore construction materials coming out of nearby quarries.

The development and funding of the Digital Railway provides an opportunity to unlock existing capacity constraints and enable future growth in the rail freight sector. Digital signalling through the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) provides an opportunity for a step-change in capacity levels on the network - crucial to growing rail freight volumes. Currently the deployment strategy of ERTMS is unclear, and Network Rail is developing a series of strategic outline business cases to understand where deployment would offer the greatest value in CP6. Freight operators are preparing for future deployment with the fitment of three first-in-class locomotive types already underway. A commercial framework has been signed between Network Rail and the freight operators to ensure that the fitment of the ETCS in-cab signalling system on board freight locomotives is appropriately funded and aligned to the deployment plans on the rail network.

Other innovation includes the F3 (fast, frequent fulfilment)project part-funded by Innovate UK (an arm of the Department of Business) and supported by the DfT to explore options for using rail for more time sensitive cargo, such as mail and parcels.

Freight might not have a vote but a questionnaire by Brake, the road safety charity, found that 79 per cent of car drivers want more freight transferred to rail and for the Government to fund the necessary enhancements. 

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