Memorandum by the Rail Freight Group (P
1. The Rail Freight Group is the representative
body of the rail freight industry, committed to increasing the
volume of freight carried by rail.
2. Although the scope of the Committee's
enquiry covers a wide range of issues connected with ports, we
are concentrating in this response on the land surface access
arrangements, and potential for rail freight.
3. The future policy in respect of ports
and rail freight is an importation ingredient in the national
rail and transport policy, in reducing significantly the number
of lorries on the road, and the consequent environmental benefit.
4. The majority of the medium and large
ports in the UK were at one stage rail connected. Some still are,
and carry useful volumes of traffic, whilst in others the tracks
have fallen into disuse. In many cases, however, they could be
reinstated at little costs to carry rail freight again.
5. Two years ago, the Rail Freight Group
published a list of ports which were rail connected in the physical
sense. It is a long list, and demonstrates the potential that
remains for considerable increase in rail traffic to and from
these ports. The list is attached as an Appendix to this paper.
6. The list of ports to which rail freight
currently runs on a regular basis is much smaller, with the highest
volumes being attained at Felixstowe, Southampton, Merseyside,
Thamesport, Hunterston, Bristol and Humberside. However, other
ports also carry good volumes and, in some instances, ports can
act as useful road/rail interchanges for freight, because they
often have good road and rail links. The UK's ports are therefore
major customers of the railways.
7. The volumes of traffic through our larger
ports provide major challenges to the railways. Although percentages
vary, through Felixstowe and Southampton last year rail freight
generally carried 20 and 30 per cent of the total traffic into
and out of the port. Since much of the traffic is short haul and
therefore not suitable for rail, this percentage is significant,
and can require 15 to 30 trains per day in each direction. It
demonstrates the ongoing confidence of the shipping lines and
ports in the potential for rail.
8. More importantly, such major port traffic
is growing at 10 per cent per annum, largely as a result of the
global economy and shipping costs that are low by any standard.
The consequences of this are that, in 10 years, growth at the
same rate would have more than doubled and probably trebled this
traffic in 20 years.
9. This is therefore a higher growth figure
than the general target of an 80 per cent growth in rail freight
over 10 years assumed in the Government's Ten Year Transport Plan.
It is worth pointing out that a three-fold increase in rail freight
traffic to and from ports over 20 years, requires significant
investment in the port rail facilities themselves, in track capacity
and capability as well as terminals around the UK. Such investment
may, itself, take 10 years to deliver, hence the importance of
thinking strategically, thinking long term and being prepared.
10. It is important that the railway industry
and government accepts the regular moves made by shipping lines
between UK ports. This is part of the normal commercial operation
of the industry, but it does mean that the railways, as the ports,
must accept the need to invest without the guarantee of a particular
major customer committing to use it for 10 to 20 years. Given
the right price and service, there is little doubt that such facilities
will get used; the only question is by which lines.
11. It is for these reasons that new port
developments are planned at Harwich, Canvey Island and Dibden
Bay, Southampton. Although many doubt whether the large additional
capacity will be required immediately, there are few who deny
that they will be required at some time; the only real question
12. Some comment that this growth will never
happen but the point is that, if it does, the demand for surface
land transport will grow at the same rates, and it will be transported
either by road or rail. If rail does not provide the capacity
or service, it will go by road with the consequent road congestion
and environmental problems that this will cause.
13. For the smaller ports, there is an increasing
role for them to play in taking both coastal shipping that may
be in straight competition with road or rail, as we are regional
and feeder services from other parts of Europe. These ports are
also likely to see significant growth in traffic, both because
shipping costs are low compared with other modes, but also because
of increasing congestion in the major European ports. In addition,
the Transport Act 2000 extended the rail freight grants to coastal
1.4 Members of the Rail Freight Group and
the All Party Parliamentary Rail Freight Group visited Rotterdam
and Antwerp in September 2000. We were able to study the operation
of these ports and the rail connections, and some interesting
15. Firstly, we note that the quays, the
harbour dredging and the rail freight facilities were in both
cases funded by the local authority and/or the state. We were
not able to identify in much detail how much, if any, subsidy
was provided but, even if there was no actual subsidy, it was
clear that significant capital was available for new facilities,
including rail terminals, which were built to high standard to
provide volume for growth and easy operation. Rail connections
to the ports were, similarly, operated efficiently and without
major delays, with investment in new lines, such as the Betuwe
freight only line connecting Rotterdam to Germany.
16. The size of both ports was many times
that of the UK's largest ports, and it was interesting to note
the different modes of working rail freight. At Antwerp, many
of the quays were rail connected, and individual wagons or boxes
were transported by rail to marshalling yards where they were
formed into trains for onward despatch inland. At Rotterdam, transport
within the port complex was by road, with boxes being loaded onto
trains at two major intermodal terminals.
17. This all compared very favourably with
experience in the UK where the UK's major ports are still much
smaller; they generally operate in less easy situations. Whether
for this reason or not, we continue to be concerned that Felixstowe
Port charges a premium to all its customers who choose to use
rail rather than road. This is an added disincentive to use rail,
and we hope that the port owner, Hutchinson Ports Ltd will reconsider
this on an urgent basis.
18. Although the carriage of deep-sea containers
dominates the rail freight traffic volumes to ports, many other
goods are carried in conventional wagons. The largest tonnage
is coal, which is imported at Hunterston, Bristol and at the new
facility on the Humber. The operation of these train services
requires co-ordination between the shipping lines, ports, rail
operators and the power station customers, with volumes, types
of coal and destinations changed at a moment's notice, a very
different operation from the old colliery to power station merry-go-round
which happened day-in, day-out.
19. Other wagonload cargoes to and from
ports include cars and parts, agricultural products and china
clay. They may appear to be specialist, but volumes can be large
and they require separate facilities in the ports from deep-sea
20. For the boxes, the major change in recent
years is the international trend to 9'6" high boxes. The
problem for the railways is that these cannot be carried within
the existing UK loading gauge except on very expensive and inefficient
wagons. Unless action is taken to address this problem on our
railways, rail freight will inevitably be excluded from an increasing
share of the market, and will see volumes drop significantly.
21. The key to maintaining deep sea box
traffic on rail, and increasing both volumes and market share,
is to increase the loading gauge to accommodate the 9'6"
boxes on conventional wagons, and to ensure that there is adequate
capacity on the routes which are cleared for gauge to accommodate
the expected traffic along with the growth on other rail freight
and passenger traffic.
22. The new gauge for 9'6" boxes is
now called W10 or W12, with the large piggyback gauge (to accommodate
four metre high trailers on rail wagons) W18. We understand that
the Strategic Rail Authority has agreed that priorities for gauge
enhancement to W10/W12 is from the Midlands to Felixstowe/Harwich
and Southampton, whereas they are studying the W18 gauge from
the Channel Tunnel to Glasgow, since the majority of traffic in
this route is carried in lorry-semi-trailers on the parallel motorways.
23. The Rail Freight Group supports this
decision, but remains concerned about the time and cost of implementing
the gauge enhancement works.
24. The existing West Coast Main Line from
Glasgow to Willesden has been found by Railtrack to be capable
of carrying W10/W12 traffic; two structures have been altered.
However, this line on its own is of no use to deep-sea container
traffic since it does not connect to any major port, and it has
not been cleared to carry W18 piggyback traffic, for which there
is a demand.
25. Although there is some demand for piggyback
W18 services to major ports, it is small compared with the need
to carry 9'6" boxes. Railtrack has already committed that
any structure altered to accommodate W10/W12 will be rebuilt to
take W18 so that, if at a later date, W18 is agreed, it will not
be necessary to rebuild structures a second time. However, structures
clear to W10/W12 but not to W18 will not be altered in the first
stage works. We discuss capacity later.
26. The SRA has commissioned Railtrack to
undertake a study into the costs of increasing the gauge on the
Felixstowe-Ely-Peterborough-Nuneaton line to W10/W12. A decision
on which gauge, if any, to implement will, we understand, be made
in the next six months, so that work could start before the end
of this year.
27. The SRA has more recently instructed
Railtrack to study the same gauge clearance study work on the
route via Reading and Oxford.
28. We are concerned that these studies
may not include the gauge-enhanced connections to terminals, such
as Trafford Park, Crewe, Merseyside, Mossend, Hams Hall and Daventry.
Without these connections, these gauge enhancements will be of
29. It is clear that a gauge-enhanced route
is of little use in attracting additional high gauge traffic if
there is not sufficient capacity to meet this demand. We remain
concerned on many routes about the slow progress on developing
proposals to provide for the necessary capacity, as well as for
meeting the demand for operating freight trains 24 hours a day
seven days a week. The recent post-Hatfield possession over-runs,
particularly and Leeds and Willesden over the New Year, demonstrate
how far Railtrack has to go in achieving such reliability and
30. Although the gauge enhancement can be
done in two or three years, the capacity work is at a much earlier
stage of study. On that route, it is said to be dependent on resignalling
at Leicester, and there is a debate on whether the 24 hour, seven
day requirement should be met by providing bi-directional working
on the Felixstowe Nuneaton line or by gauge enhancing additional
route via Chelmsford, the North London Line and the West Coast
31. We have similar concerns here, especially
if Dibden Bay is developed and required an addition 20 to 30 trains
per day in each direction through Reading and Oxford. We have
urged Railtrack and the SRA to study this well in advance of any
plans for refranchising the Great Western passenger services,
which may required a double deck station at Reading.
West Coast Main Line
32. The most serious problems occur on the
WCML, to which all routes converge. There is a regulatory requirement
for Railtrack to provide an additional 42 train paths for freight
or passengers beyond the existing service needs, but this is well
below the freight companies' expectation of needing more than
120 additional paths per day in each direction on that line in
10 years. This is not surprising, since the WCML connects the
UK's major centres of manufacture and consumption.
33. More recently, we understand that Railtrack
has stated that the only way it can accommodate the fast Silverlink
passenger trains south of Northampton without building a flyover
at Hanslope is to take the day-time paths out of the 42 allotted
(say 22) and give two of these paths to each fast train to operate
on the slow lines.
34. The majority of the 42 paths were meant
to be for freight, but this latest idea means that there will
be no additional paths for freight beyond what is available at
present. It indicates again the nonsense of a system that, because
of franchise requirements, allocates passenger paths before freight
paths without any mechanism to providing for the needs of freight
as they occur.
35. North of Crewe the situation is even
worse, since we understand that Railtrack has now stated that
it cannot accommodate even the existing freight on this line,
let alone any growth in traffic, alongside the operational requirements
to which it has contractually agreed with Virgin to provide.
36. Both these issues, North of Crewe and
South of Northampton, are particularly serious on this line, since
it is the only one which is gauge enchanted to W10/W12, and we
do not believe that any diversionary routes are even being considered
at present. They are of course equally serious for the generality
of freight traffic, which does not require gauge enhancement but
does require a decent quality and speed of service.
37. The Government's Ten Year Transport
Plan and the Spending Review in July 2000 allocated some £3.4bn
of government finance over ten years to rail freight. RFG welcomed
this as being necessary to achieve the target 80 per cent growth
in ten years. Even after Hatfield, this could occur if the network
gets back to reliable operation quickly. This finance is required
primarily for infrastructure investment for freight, and gauge
enhancements as described in this paper is an early candidate
for such expenditure. There are many other times, more capacity
for freight, piggyback W18 gauge between Glasgow and the Channel
Tunnel, a more flexible grants regime etc.
38. However, since July, the Regulator has
increasingly become more lenient on Railtrack, allocating them
increasing amounts of the SRA/Government money for the post Hatfield
work on track, for TPWS and several billion for the West Coast
Main Line. We have argued many times before that many of these
costs were contractually down to Railtrack. By giving the company
more and more government money for work, which it should have
paid for itself, the Regulator and Government may have saved a
short-term political embarrassment in avoiding Railtrack going
into liquidation. Such a move would at least avoid a massive compensation
to Railtrack's shareholders.
39. However, more importantly, all these
extra billions for Railtrack will mean less for rail freight.
We fear for the £3.4bn and will be seeking assurances from
ministers that this money is ring fenced for rail freight.
40. We believe that the ports, both at present
and in the future, are well placed to cater for the growing demand
for maritime traffic. Rail freight can and, with the right service,
charges and grant regime, grow its market share and overall volumes
41. We believe that, since the SRA started
putting pressure on Railtrack, there is better progress on gauge
enhancement studies, and an intention by the SRA to fund them,
provided that funds are still available and the financial case
42. We remain much more concerned about
the capacity issues, both from Felixstowe/Harwich and Southampton
but more especially on the West Coast Main Line itself where a
combination of the Regulator and Railtrack is still failing to
deliver the capacity for freight that is absolutely essential
to the continuity of existing services, let along the growth that
all want to see.