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Column - May 2012

Rail freight lands safeguarding successes

The words safeguard, safeguard, safeguard need to be added to the location, location, location mantra when considering strategic rail lands. Two recent examples of protected rail lands, coming back into use, demonstrate clearly why we need to protect rail lands in the right locations for potential possible rail use.  Time and again, it has been shown that short sighted disposals of key strategic alignments and sites have negative effects for society and the environment.  The threat of climate change illustrates the need to facilitate the shift to low carbon energy efficient rail for long distance freight.

However, if more freight is to be shifted to the railways, more terminals/interchanges are needed in the right locations; local planning authorities who control land usage within their boundaries have a key role in safeguarding suitable sites in local plans.  In fact, as a result of industry campaigning, the recently published National Planning Policy Framework explicitly makes both points 1. Freight on Rail is pleased to advise local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships which sites should and should not be protected for rail freight.

 Ipswich Borough Council recognised the strategic importance of safeguarding the Ipswich Chord ten years ago in its Local Plan, even though rail freight volumes out of Felixstowe at the time did not necessitate this rail route.  However, had the land not been defined as rail lands in the Local Plan, it would have been re-developed for housing.  Suffolk County Council’s support for the project has also been key in obtaining the funding for the project.

Consumer rail freight has grown by 29% in the past 5 years despite the recession, necessitating the upgrade of the direct route from Felixstowe to Nuneaton as an alternative to the London for traffic destined for the Midlands and the North.  This chord which is part of phase one of the upgrade, will allow rail freight from Felixstowe to access the Midlands without having to change direction in the Ipswich goods yard; all this reduces conflicts between freight and passenger services. The scheme, which is awaiting approval from the Transport Secretary, consists of the development of a 1.1 km chord which will link the Great Eastern Main Line (towards Norwich) with the East Suffolk Line (towards Lowestoft and Felixstowe).

Heathfield branch back in use for timber trafficThe second recent example is the return of freight traffic to the route between Newtown Abbott and Heathfield in Devon where timber is being transported between Devon and Chirk (North Wales) by Colas Rail for Kronospan, the chipboard manufacturer.

Two years ago, Freight on Rail lobbied Teignbridge Council to retain this rail freight usage on this route, which was being considered for a change of use to a cycle way, in its Local Development Framework as it had been disused for  some years.

This four miles freight line was quickly checked and the goods yard  and road access prepared for service. Importantly, Freight on Rail has established that Teignhbridge Council will be retaining the rail usage on this route in its current revision of its Local Development Plan.Had these two rail routes not be preserved for the railways, the economic, environmental and social benefits of rail freight could not have been realised.


1. Para 31 provision of viable infrastructure necessary to support sustainable development including large scale facilities such as rail freight interchanges ...

Para 41 Local planning authorities should identify and protect, where there is robust evidence, sites and routes which could be critical in developing infrastructure to widen transport choice.

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