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Implications to Rail Freight of Crossrail

Freight on Rail would like to stress, that, in principle it is supportive of the Crossrail project and its aims to provide additional capacity and short journey times on London’s rail network. However the form proposed in the Hybrid Bill will instead do great harm to the rail freight industry, to those businesses that rely on rail to move their freight and to the wider community. It will force trainloads of freight off the railways onto the congested road network with all the adverse economic1 and environmental2 consequences.

The Great Western and Great Eastern mainlines

Freight trains make heavy use of these routes, both to serve the needs of London and to take goods across London en route to destinations beyond. For example, over half of London’s constructions materials – stone, cement and sand –and a growing proportion of London’s waste are moved by rail, much along the GWML. Manufactured goods of all kinds are moved in containers by train along the GEML to and from the UK’s leading deep-sea intermodal port of Felixstowe. The port of Tilbury will also be affected. On the stretches concerned of these routes, six railheads receive or despatch freight while a further four sites are accessed by branches. Between them, these locations generate millions of tonnes of rail freight per year. In addition, more freight uses the GWML and GEML as through routes to cross London. On a typical day, the GWML and GEML are each used by fifty freight trains – in each direction. Between them, these trains ensure that the burden of heavy lorries on London’s roads is reduced while giving UK industry and its customers a competitive alternative to congested roads.

In its present form, the Crossrail Bill threatens both today’s freight business and its potential to grow in the future.

The impact on capacity on the Great Western and Great Eastern mainlines

The Bill would confine all non-Crossrail trains to just two tracks on the GWML between Paddington and Maidenhead. The fifty daily freight trains in each direction would have to share this capacity with the Heathrow Express and Greater Western passenger trains. All long-distance passenger trains serving the south west, west and south Wales, the Welsh marches and the Cotswolds would be affected. The varying speed characteristics of these trains and their numbers will make it impossible to operate a reliable and robust timetable, let alone cater for additional train services to meet the steady growth in demand for both passenger and freight – or allow access to the tracks for essential maintenance work. The uncertainty over capacity availability will deter freight customers from making use of rail along the GWML and act as a blight on expansion plans.

The Impact on the Structure of the rail industry

The bill provides for the Secretary of State for Transport to instruct the Rail Regulator to give Crossrail trains priority on the Great Western and Great Eastern main lines. It requires the ORR, on the Secretary of State’s direction, to override existing access contracts, and ensure that new ones do not adversely affect the Crossrail operation, and can require compensation to be payable in such events. The same can be done to facilitate construction works.

It also appears that Crossrail trains could be given priority over Heathrow Express ones so that it would be possible for FGW, FGWL, Heathrow Express and 40 odd freight trains a day all to have to be crammed onto the fast line between Maidenhead and London to give Crossrail trains sole use of the relief (slow) lines. Similar problems could occur on the Great Eastern, with trains from Norwich and Ipswich and other non-Crossrail destinations being restricted along with the high volume of freight using this line all onto one pair of tracks.


Crossrail will cut off temporarily or close permanently a number of freight terminals along the GE and GW, and cause the important rail connected concrete plant west of Royal Oak to have to close unless a more flexible solution during construction is agreed.

There is also no guarantee that access to freight terminals will be maintained during construction. Crossrail will cause planning blight on the rail-served property along the line of route, thus discouraging rail freight customers from investing to take freight off the roads.

The solution

The Crossrail project does not have to damage rail freight, its customers and the wider community. The present proposal to give priority to Crossrail trains over all others is totally unacceptable to the other users of the line. Although it is good that Crossrail is offering compensation to operators and others affected, this does not solve the problem of Crossrail causing more freight to be sent by road as well as intercity passenger services being badly affected.

Freight on Rail believes the solution is to integrate the operation of the Crossrail infrastructure with the rest of the rail network operated by Network Rail. This is what was understood during the consultation period to be the plan. We believe it is quite possible for the aspirations of all current and future passenger and freight customers to be met without the complex arrangements proposed, which will adversely affect all other users of these lines.

Please consider petitioning on this bill, see explanation on and/or write to the Secretary of State, Alistair Darling MP, the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and your professional associations. The deadline is tight as petitions must be received within two weeks of the start of the Second Reading, expected in the second half of June.

May 27th 2005

1. An aggregates train can remove 120 HGVs from our roads - Network Rail 2004
2. Per tonne carried rail freight produces 90% less carbon dioxide than road transport – SRA 2004

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