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Column - September 2012

Landmark Government Commitment to rail freight

In July, the Government gave the green light to rail freight expansion as part of the biggest upgrade to the rail network in years, for the period 2014-2019 in its High Level Output Specification.

The ongoing Government commitment to expand the Strategic Rail (Freight) Network will underpin green economic growth with green jobs and a reduction in road congestion, pollution and road accidents. These upgrades will translate into more efficient reliable long distance services with robust diversionary routes by delivering core rail routes that enable longer, faster and bigger freight trains to operate. Longer trains are already being used with an average intermodal train length carrying 24 wagons, instead of 20, and some trains with 30 wagons. Further investment is now being targeted at increasing train lengths to 640 metres and even 750 for some intermodal routes.

Rail FreightThis major infrastructure investment will enable UK businesses to benefit from a more efficient rail network and demonstrates the Government’s commitment to a growing economy and crucially it will give business the confidence to make long term investments in rail freight.

Despite challenging economic conditions, rail freight continues to grow; the latest Office of Rail Regulation annual figures issued in June show that the total amount of freight moved in 2011-12 increased by 10% compared to 2010-11. This is the highest amount of total freight moved since 2007-08. Intermodal traffic moved increased by 11%, the 9th consecutive year of growth for consumer rail freight. These figures demonstrate the need for multi-modal freight solutions to improve freight’s overall reliability; rail now commands 30% of the market out of the Southern container ports because it offers a long distance reliable alternative which reduces congestion both at the ports and long distance along the strategic corridors.

These enhancements, with headline projects listed below, are key because the current limitations of the rail network are suppressing demand for rail freight services.

  1. £200m for the Strategic (Rail) Freight Network (SFN)
    Additionally, the following projects are the main schemes which will benefit freight and passenger services:-
  2. Reconstruction of Ely North Junction
  3. Leicester area capacity
  4. Electric Spine – Southampton Port to Basingstoke, Basingstoke – Reading - Oxford – Banbury – Leamington Spa – Coventry
  5. Capacity upgrades to the West and East Coast Mainline
  6. Great Western electrification

Take the example of Felixstowe, where there are currently 29 trains in and out of port each day and the A14 parallel rail route at capacity. Stage one of the upgrading of this key freight artery increasing the gauge plus certain capacity upgrades will be completed before the end of  2014.  This latest announcement now commits to major capacity upgrade between Felixstowe and Nuneaton which will allow up to 56 trains in and out of the port each day resulting in 40 million long distance lorry miles being removed from the A14 corridor and beyond and the continuing expansion of rail’s role in the deep sea container market.

The Secretary of State for Transport's guidance to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), issued as part of the High Level Output Statement,  highlights that rail freight performs an important role in the nation's logistics and in the achievement of the Government's sustainable distribution objectives.

These upgrades, which were universally supported by the industry, will unlock suppressed demand for long distance rail freight services out of the ports and on key arterial routes allowing rail to offer reliable long distance services to customers who want a robust cost effective service by a combination of the most appropriate freight modes.

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