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RFG: Rail reforms must not neglect freight customers

The Rail Freight Group (RFG) has warned that the government’s planned reforms to the British railway must be of benefit to freight shippers as well as passengers.

At the Conservative policy think-tank Policy Exchange yesterday evening, the transport secretary Chris Grayling announced a myriad of ambitious changes to Britain’s railway system, including bringing infrastructure management under the remit of TOCs in future franchises  with East West Rail pioneering the way.  He also revealed plans for expanding smart ticketing for passengers across the country.

However, while Grayling mentioned the needs of freight operators for improved facilities in his speech these were scarcely expanded upon, and rail freight customers have expressed concern that they may be marginalised by passenger-focused franchises. 

RFG executive director Maggie Simpson said: “Freight customers may not be as vocal as passengers, but they share a common desire for a high performing and cost-effective railway which deliver for their needs.

“Government’s recently published rail freight strategy recognises this, and we look forward to working together on the details of these proposals to ensure that they are a success for everyone.”

The RFG will be asking government to ensure that the planned changes also consider their needs, including strengthening Network Rail’s freight route and having a ‘powerful’ operator of the national system to ensure that the network is kept in a fit condition for rail freight.

The group has also requested that new integrated franchises are incentivised to support rail freight growth by building new freight terminals and structures.

Grayling’s mentions of freight in his speech focused on the development of HS2, which he said would open space for freight on the West Coast Main Line.

“If we are to build something new, why wouldn’t we build the best, the newest, the world’s most advanced passenger railway?” Grayling said. “That is what HS2 will do … It will free up capacity on the West Coast mainline for more freight and commuter services. It will make a real difference.”

Grayling also acknowledged that freight operators need to be considered in any possible joint ventures between infrastructure owners and franchises, which were first suggested by Sir Roy McNulty’s consultation five years ago.

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