Opinion Former Article

Rail freight must be remembered

Government must pay greater attention to the needs of rail freight when considering major infrastructure investments such as with the Northern Powerhouse, a conference heard yesterday.

Rail Freight Group chairman Lord Berkeley said it is “great to have a Northern Powerhouse, but we need to fight hard so that the vision for the next 30 years includes rail freight. Gauge enhancements for freight are so important and we have to get the Chancellor to embrace this.”

Demand for rail freight in the UK is currently growing, Lord Berkeley claimed, despite coal traffic in the UK “having just about stopped completely”. He said that the railways can play a major part in the construction of High Speed 2 by helping to take excavated material away from the rebuild of Euston station, reducing truck movements that would otherwise use roads in Camden.

Lord Berkeley went on to say that those pushing for greater use of the railways for freight should not be put off by a “rail industry that is famous for saying no” to new ideas.

“This is a mindset that needs to change”.

He added that several large new freight terminals are desperately needed in South East England and said capacity for rail freight in some areas was in short supply. He called for a single track railway between the port of Felixstowe and Nuneaton to be double tracked, but claimed that a planned upgrade is not being taken forward quickly enough.

Network Rail’s head of freight development Guy Bates said that a new passing loop is to be built on the route between Felixstowe and Nuneaton to allow the number of freight trains to increase from around 30 to 40 each day. “The other thing to consider is the need for more terminal capacity and two or three decent sized terminals are finally set to come out of hibernation after the downturn in the Midlands and the North West,” he added.

Guy Bates added that work is also planned to remove a level crossing on the way to London Gateway port in Essex to ensure longer freight trains can pass safety. Yesterday’s discussions around rail freight took place as part of the eighth annual UK Ports Conference, organised by Waterfront.

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