Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Freightliner (P 04)



  Freightliner Ltd is the UK's largest carrier of containers by rail to and from Britain's ports. 650,000 containers (more than one million twenty foot equivalent units) were carried in the 12 months ending 31 March 2000, representing approximately 24 per cent of the intercontinental containers entering the country. As rail is not at present competitive between the major container ports on the South and East coasts and the London and South East region of the country, Freightliner's share of the market increases significantly with the distance travelled to the North; we estimate that approximately 60 per cent of Scotland's intercontinental traffic is conveyed by us.

  Freightliner's volumes have risen by approximately 50 per cent since privatisation in 1996, and we are keen to continue to expand our share of a growing market.


  The Government in its transport white paper and in the Ten Year Transport Plan has endorsed the view that rail transport is in general environmentally beneficial, making substantial contributions to reductions in atmospheric pollution (producing, for instance, 20 per cent of the carbon dioxide per payload tonne when compared with a modern lorry), using less land and producing less noise pollution when compared with road transport. Since by definition a change of transport mode must happen at a port, maritime traffic is particularly well suited to rail transport and there are economic advantages to be gained by carrying large volumes of containers to and from inland commercial and residential areas by rail.


  The history of the development of container handling facilities at Britain's major intercontinental container ports—Felixstowe, Southampton, Tilbury, Thamesport and Liverpool—has been one of organic growth over the last 35 years, but this has happened without particular reference to any strategic plan for the development of port or inland rail handling facilities, nor to the nature and capacity of the rail network nationally. Thus, for instance, the location of the rail terminals at Felixstowe and Southampton is not ideal, resulting in significant transfer costs at the ports, whilst some inland areas—notably Tyneside and the East Midlands—are remote from productive rail terminals. There are likely to be significant difficulties in handling the size and number of the trains we are forecasting to run on the Railtrack network, and penetration may be affected by gaps in the terminal network.

  We believe that some of these issues will be addressed in the forthcoming freight strategy to be published by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), but we must emphasise the importance of the following:

    3.1  The provision of loading gauge capacity for the increasingly common 9 foot 6 inches high container.[2]

    3.2  Capacity on the Railtrack network to allow the passage of more trains as volume increases.

    3.3  Development of additional inland terminal capacity at key locations.

  Providing solutions to these problems will require substantial capital investment, and it is vital that funds should not be diverted to other issues arising from Railtrack's current problems or the development of those passenger leisure journey opportunities which may not represent the best value to the economy.

  When permitted to do so by Railtrack, Freightliner has demonstrated that it can deliver the quality of service and responsiveness by rail which encourages the shipping lines and other customers to make substantial increases in the number of containers carried by rail. The company intends to continue to procure major investment in the equipment needed to do this—some £48 million pounds worth of such investment has already been put in place—but it is not possible for us to finance the necessary network infrastructure work as well. The SRA and Railtrack need to make good the commitments which are beginning to be given so that the country's trade arteries can be made efficient and effective. The time has come to conclude all the feasibility studies and get on with the necessary action on the ground.


  It is clear that significant additional port infrastructure will soon be required to handle expected container volume growth, and the Committee will be aware of the proposals for development at Dibden Bay (Southampton), Shellhaven (Thurrock) and Bathside Bay (Harwich). The developers of all these schemes have committed themselves to providing good rail facilities; these need to be matched by equivalent capacity improvements on the relevant parts of the Railtrack network.

  As mentioned above, rail is not currently competitive for the carriage of containers into London and the South East. It is conceivable that, if suitable terminals within the M25 are established, that effective rail shuttle services could be run from Felixstowe and Southampton to make a real contribution to reducing congestion on the region's main roads. Steps should be taken to investigate this concept and begin the necessary planning.


  As the rail industry begins to deal with the opportunities for growth it is becoming clear that the processes laid down in the Transport and Works Act present a major obstacle to the development of the rail freight industry. Proposals to develop such facilities as the proposed terminals at Colnbrook (London International Freight Exchange) and Alconbury have had to incur very considerable expenditure and inordinate delay to comply with the requirements of the Act; the works necessary to expand the capacity of the West Coast Main Line call for an Inquiry which is expected to last for at least a year; and the consideration of the best solutions for many network problems is heavily constrained whenever it becomes apparent that the Act may apply.

  Whilst we agree that it is vitally important that the interests of the ordinary citizen and the environment should receive the fullest possible protection, it is becoming apparent that the procedures laid down in this Act are clumsy and inefficient, and likely to have an adverse impact on the international competitiveness of the United Kingdom as well as delaying the implementation of rail transport schemes which are expected to have very positive environmental advantages for the country, including those arising from the development of rail for the conveyance of port-related goods.


  Members of the All Party Parliamentary Rail Freight Group recently participated in a visit to Belgium and the Netherlands and saw the rail infrastructure in place and being provided to serve the major container ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. A major new container terminal is currently under construction at Antwerp, whilst the impressive Rail Service Centre at Rotterdam (one of two major terminals in the Port of Rotterdam) handles each day 35 trains departing to destinations throughout mainland Europe. Investments into the rail network infrastructure are proceeding apace in both countries, and will undoubtedly further assist the competitiveness of their economies. Felixstowe is the fourth largest container port in Europe, yet its rail facilities and connections are puny by comparison.


  Much of the necessary policy to allow rail to improve its contribution to the activity of the ports in Britain is in place, the SRA and Railtrack understand what should be done. What is needed is some urgency in carrying through the policies into an active and effective implementation phase.

Freightliner Ltd

January 2001

2   9 foot 6 inch containers currently make up around 20% of the equipment entering the UK, and the proportion is expected to increase rapidly in view of the cubic capacity advantages they offer; such containers cannot currently be carried by rail because of the structure gauge unless disproportionately expensive wagon solutions are employed. Back

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