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Column - November 2016

Rail freight’s efficiency and innovation approach

The rail freight industry continues to innovate and maximise use of the existing rail capacity as it develops new and existing markets following the challenges of the steep decline in coal traffic this year.

We have all heard of pop-up shops and now DB Cargo UK and Cemex have opened a pop up construction rail depot to serve the growing construction market in north-west England and reduce the number of HGVs transporting materials from the picturesque High Peak countryside.This is noteworthy as it demonstrates that terminals of this nature can be set up quickly dispelling the myth that terminals take a long time to be planned and built; This one was installed within weeks on land adjacent to the West Coast Mainline using a ready-made weighbridge and office. The temporary site, based in Warrington, Cheshire, will handle around 125,000 tonnes of aggregates each year. The aggregates are transported from Dove Holes Quarry in Derbyshire on two weekly services with each train carrying around 1,540 tonnes of aggregates. Up to 150 HGVs would be needed to carry this load by road.

Another impressive initiative is the building of European Standards compliant new box wagons from a significant proportion of recycled materials by Freightliner. It became the first UK rail operator to build and place into use a new fleet of wagons made using parts from redundant coal hoppers for its new contract with Tarmac, a major building materials and construction solutions provider and one of the UK’s largest users of rail freight.As Freightliner needed a fleet of modern high capacity box wagons, unavailable in the UK it has adapted its perfectly serviceable but redundant HHA coal wagons in partnership with Greenbrier Europe.

Direct Rail Services (DRS) continues to run a daily service six days a week for a leading supermarket between Daventry and Scotland as well as six day services to Wentloog and to Purlett via Barking and back to Daventry. DRS offers secondary distribution from Mossend to Inverness.DRS now uses its Class 68 locomotives which are more fuel-efficient than the Class 66 locomotive and thus have lower emissions on its Daventry to Mossend and Mossend to Inverness services.  Furthermore, DRS’s duel fuel Class 88 locomotives, currently being tested, will also be ideal for the Daventry to Mossend and Daventry to London services as they can use electric traction and reduce CO2 emissions even more as well as making more efficient use of the network.

In May Freightliner launched its 23rd daily service from Felixstowe Port increasing the total number of daily rail servicesin and out of the port to 32. The service will operate to and from the Freightliner rail port at Doncaster after development work has finished and in the interim it will be serviced at the DB Cargo UK site in Rotherham. Two months later, GB Railfreight started the 33rd service out of the port on the same route demonstrating the scale of the demand for rail freight services which offer a fast reliable safer less polluting alternative to HGVs.  In total, rail services out of the port remove around 2,300 HGVs from the congested A14 corridor each day. There is suppressed demand for more rail freight  services, especially in consumer traffic; every rail path that is available out of FelixstowePort, can be used by rail immediately demonstrating how the current funded and planned upgrades to the Felixstowe branch line which will generate an additional ten daily paths, are crucial. Despite shortages of capacity on the Trans-Pennine route, GB Railfreight has secured extra rail slots to service its biomass servicesfrom the new Liverpool specialist biomass terminal to DraxPower station, showcasing sustainable, reliable and affordable energy.The TfN freight strategy, for which Freight on Rail ran a rail freight workshop, highlights how the Trans-Pennine rail routes needs serious upgrades including electrification, to revive ports in the North.

Another crucial initiative is the DfT rail freight strategy, currently being written in partnership with rail freight operators, RFG, Freight on Rail and key rail freight customers.The new Rail Minister, Paul Maynard, MP will shortly launch this strategy which is key to giving the sector on-going confidence to invest as it demonstrates the Government’s support for rail freight and future funding for upgrades on the network. A key objective of the strategy is to show to what extent rail freight is already a crucial element of the supply chain and its potential to expand its market share.Road and rail freight complement each other and it is crucial that both modes play to their strengths to offer an integrated supply chain solution to customers who are largely mode agnostic.  In particular, rail freight is best placed to provide long-haul trunk services for consumer products (container traffic) as well as the traditional bulk services. The strategy looks in detail at how to maximise use of existing  capacity, how to safeguard strategic capacity in the future, how to work with Network Rail to support the development of the Virtual Freight Route which is vital to protect rail freight interests across the national network in our increasingly ‘devolved world’. It also explores the importance of the next round of freight track access charging taking into account all the economic, social and environmental benefits of rail freight compared to HGVs, to UK PLC; Freight on Rail is campaigning to get the market distortions between HGVs and rail taken into account so that rail freight can compete more fairly with HGVs. Otherwise the economy and public, who overwhelming support the shift to rail, loose out.

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