Rail Industry Focus

01.07.15

New government is committed to rail freight

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 15

Clare Moriarty, director general of the Rail Executive at the Department for Transport, discusses the role that freight can play in supporting economic growth in CP5.

The new Conservative-led government says its priority for this next Parliament is economic growth. Rail, especially freight, has a huge part to play in that, according to Clare Moriarty, who leads the Rail Executive within the Department for Transport,

Speaking to the packed room at this year’s Annual Rail Freight Group Conference at Stephenson Harwood in London, Moriarty said freight’s success since privatisation has been “remarkable”.

“In CP5, forecast freight growth is even greater than forecast passenger growth and the government is looking to respond accordingly,” she said. “We want to work with industry to identify what needs to be done to realise that potential growth and remove potential barriers that might inhibit it.”

Moriarty, who was previously director general of Corporate Group from 2009-12, added that while Britain has one of the most “dynamic” freight markets in Europe, in the early years of privatisation the “freight and market recovery was very much driven by the industry with very little recognition from government”.

However, over the last decade she said successive governments have been taking much more account of the potential value of rail freight and are now seeking to help its development.

She highlighted the importance of maintaining the ring-fenced Strategic Freight Network Fund in CP5 and the benefits the money has delivered.

“This funding has already delivered the Ipswich Chord (pictured), further gauge clearance on key routes and enabled operators to run longer trains – all things which improve reliability and connectivity.

“It is worth highlighting the success of the Doncaster Chord project, with its completion last year enabling traffic from the Humber ports to avoid having to use those 15kms of the busy East Coast Main Line. That has delivered performance benefits for both freight and passenger operations.”

Moriarty added that new possibilities continue to open up, with progress being made on the Doncaster Station Area Enhancement delivery, the development work on three freight loops between York and Newcastle as well as new grade-separated crossings at Werrington and Newark.

“We are steadily including the port routes in our electrification plans,” she said, “and we have already covered this with the Southampton and London Gateway. We are looking to include Felixstowe to Nuneaton and Hull in the next tranche of schemes.”

It was also noted that the development of HS2 between London, the Midlands and the north will be important for both passenger and freight services alike. “It will allow us to reorganise and improve commuter routes across the UK but, more importantly from your perspective, the additional freight capacity it will provide, using latent capacity being freed up on the West Coast Main Line, [gives the] potential to run additional freight services. And that is a real opportunity for modal shift from our roads to our railways.”

The Rail Freight Group has estimated that providing extra freight capacity on railways could save about 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year by removing 200 road haulage trucks per hour, which would otherwise be added to the M40, M1 and parallel A-roads.

Moriarty added that while there are opportunities there are also challenges, including keeping the network running safely and reliably for passenger and freight services while increasing capacity and improving performance.

Reading station was long highlighted as one of the most congested bottlenecks on the whole network, which has had a major influence on reliability and punctuality, she noted.

“One of the key drivers of the work around Reading was the predicted growth in freight traffic from Southampton to the west Midlands corridor,” said Moriarty. “The new viaduct unlocks the track area and untangles a very complex layout. That benefits the whole of the Great Western network and frees up capacity for six more freight trains per day. We now have a new administration and our ministers are making it very clear that rail freight is a very important element in the government’s determination to deliver economic growth.

“The importance and benefits of rail freight are clear. It can help to reduce congestion on roads, is significantly less polluting than road haulage and it can deliver very reliably.”

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