Column - October 2010
National network needed in any restructuring of railways
The coalition Government is currently considering options to restructure the railways including regional sectorisation and vertical integration. In this context, it is vital to recognise that rail freight needs a national network to prosper as it needs to compete with road freight which has a national network which it can, by and large, access when it needs to.
The nature of freight distribution means that rail freight flows often cross several regional boundaries so a national rail network is a crucial element in proving a robust, reliable flexible service to customers.
We recognise that the different freight modes complement each other; co-modality means using each mode to its strengths and rail freight has a crucial role to play in long distance consumer freight. In the last year, despite the recession, the share of consumer freight transported by rail has increased by 6.5 per cent, representing the seventh consecutive year of growth. Industry experts have demonstrated that consumer rail freight can increase fivefold in the next 20 years if the Government shows it is committed to rail freight and retains national operating conditions. For example, nation- wide pathing and co-ordination of timetabling and engineering works and strategic reservations needs to be maintained.
Given the Coalition Government stated commitments to reduce carbon emissions and stimulate the green economy, it is crucial that any restructuring of Network Rail helps, rather than hinders, the continued growth of rail freight.
The rail freight operators are therefore asking that in any structural changes to the industry, the national network is retained and the following key attributes that support continued growth in rail freight are protected and enhanced:-
- National charging that keeps rail freight competitive with road
- Timetabling of cross-route trains
- Strategic reservation of capacity to enable rail freight growth
- Co-ordination of engineering work over core and diversionary routes (which typically traverse an alternative region) and subsequent timetabling
- Incentives to react quickly to develop new business
- Day to day performance management of trains over border
- National performance and possessions regime
- Approvals process for introduction of new rolling stock on a national scale
Continued growth in rail freight will support many Coalition objectives laid out in its programme for Government especially in supporting the overall economy, reducing road congestion and reducing carbon emissions as long as the restructuring of Network Rail does not damages the efficiency of the network and the service rail freight customers receive.