The Sleeper's Blog


Lord Berkeley: TransPennine freight is being sidelined

Source: RTM Feb/March 2019

Lord Berkeley, former chairman of the Rail Freight Group, makes the case for extra freight capacity across the proposed TransPennine route upgrades.

Freight has suffered from the lack of capacity across the Pennines, especially for container trains needing W10 or W12 gauge. This has been a frustration for many years, and some services have been trialled running via Derby or Edinburgh – but these are much longer routes that not only cost more, but also tie up assets for lengthy periods, which renders rail uncompetitive. Today, with Brexit looming, ports on the east and west coasts have been investing in quayside and rail facilities to increase their trade, and are keen to make more use of rail to support their customer demands. In addition, the region is seeing significant growth in warehousing and retail logistics, with bulk businesses such as construction also keen to use rail.

These customers, along with the rail freight operators and regional stakeholders, have therefore been deeply frustrated by the government’s recent decision to exclude new freight capacity and gauge from the current project to upgrade the north TransPennine route – which will provide two additional passenger paths as well as journey time improvements between Manchester, Leeds, and York.

On 7 January in the Lords, I asked minister Baroness Sugg whether government “will consider proposals by Transport for the North (TfN) to include capacity and capability for freight services within their plans to electrify and upgrade the Manchester to Leeds route; if not, why not; and what alternative proposals they will make for freight services.”

Her answer was equivocal: “We are planning to invest £2.9bn in the first phase of the TransPennine route upgrade over the next five years, with an immediate focus on improving journeys for passengers. We have taken TfN’s advice into account as we develop this first phase and are taking forward many of TfN’s recommendations. We will continue to work with Network Rail and TfN to develop future phases of the upgrade and on how best to realise potential future benefits for cross-Pennine freight flows on this line and other routes.”

Nothing about alternative routes and nothing about extra funding timescales. Ministers have therefore ignored TfN’s advice on the need to include freight in the first upgrade, as TfN’s public position has been that the route upgrade must deliver all its requirements – which includes freight.

Does the minister really believe that, after almost £3bn has been spent on the first upgrade for passengers – for which the line will be closed for many months – anyone will seriously accept another similar closure a few years later for freight? The DfT has sold freight ‘down the river’ here in favour of a quiet life! But PD Ports (who write on page 56), which runs Teesport, says that this failure to allow for freight “could seriously damage the economic aims of the Northern Powerhouse and would leave an over-reliance on the heavily-congested M62.”

What she could not describe was the scope of work needed for a freight upgrade compared to a passenger one. This is because the work to cost these extra elements has not yet been fully completed despite being requested over a year ago. However, it is believed that the scope of additional work is relatively minor, and that some elements needed for freight capacity are also likely to be needed to ensure that the passenger outputs are resilient and perform at an acceptable level.

For gauge clearance, according to Julian Worth, chair of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport’s Rail Freight Forum, “there are very few locations that need enhancement to clear the route to W10/12. Essentially, it's some small bridges, particularly around Mossley and working within Stalybridge tunnel, which may need track lowering.”

So what else does Network Rail have to do? They must be challenged to justify the additional work and the associated freight-specific costs. It is of note that the benefits of including freight have been accepted by the DfT based on input from the customers.

Another scheme that ministers may see as the answer to the freight ‘problem’ is the idea of reopening Skipton to Colne, a project being pushed hard by the secretary of state for transport. This would have many benefits for passengers but, for freight, it would only work if there were major enhancements beyond Skipton and Colne to give a through route between the ports, all gauge cleared. This might include some very expensive flyovers in the Leeds area and across the West Coast Main Line. The currently estimated BCR just for Skipton-Colne ranges from 0.1 to 0.9, but the problem for freight is that it would be a decade or more before the through route was available – by which time any freight company interested would have long since given up!

I also query the refusal by Network Rail to run any freight trains over the hill in the daytime in order to provide for six passenger trains per hour. Is it not about time that the DfT gave the same attention to capacity on these northern routes, where three to five coach trains are the norm, as it does to the London commuter routes, where 12 car trains are the norm? It may need some platform lengthening in the north, as has been done around London, but five much longer TransPennine passenger trains an hour would surely suffice, allowing one freight path every hour.

It is time for the DfT and Network Rail to listen to the freight industry experts who believe that this initial upgrade to include freight is neither onerous nor costly, and ought to be done alongside the passenger upgrade. It could give PD Ports, ABP, the Merseyside ports and their customers a few trains a day each. It would also allow government to demonstrate that they are listening and doing all they reasonably can to help business in the north. Alongside this, it is time for the passenger interests and the various mayors and councils keen to demonstrate their power over the railway and its services to accept that businesses need rail freight too!


Enjoying RTM? Subscribe here to receive our weekly news updates or click here to receive a copy of the magazine!


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment



rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

£200m Edinburgh tram extension given green light despite criticism for ‘arrogant’ plans of ‘unknown financial risk’

15/03/2019£200m Edinburgh tram extension given green light despite criticism for ‘arrogant’ plans of ‘unknown financial risk’

Councillors have rubber-stamped £207m plans to extend Edinburgh’s tram line from the city centre to Newhaven despite major criticism ... more >
Safety warning issued after runaway road-rail vehicle raises concerns over brake maintenance and ‘inadequate supervision’

15/03/2019Safety warning issued after runaway road-rail vehicle raises concerns over brake maintenance and ‘inadequate supervision’

The RAIB has issued new safety recommendations after a road rail vehicle (RRV) ran downhill and out of control along a track for 340 metres. ... more >
Rail industry urges government rethink to deliver rail electrification at half the costs

15/03/2019Rail industry urges government rethink to deliver rail electrification at half the costs

The cost of rail electrification projects could be slashed by as much 50%, the Railway Industry Association (RIA) has revealed as it urges the go... more >

editor's comment

23/01/2018Out with the old...

Despite a few disappointing policy announcements, especially for the electrification aficionados amongst us, 2017 was, like Darren Caplan writes on page 20, a year generally marked by positive news for the rail industry. We polished off the iconic Ordsall Chord (p32), hit some solid milestones on Thameslink (p40), progressed on ambitious rolling stock orders (p16), and finally started moving forward on HS2 (p14) ‒ paving the way for a New Ye... read more >

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the TOC, gives RTM an update on the innovative scheme. Recognising that young people are more likely to take a risk trespassing on railway tracks, CrossCountry and the Scouts have come together to encourage Britain’s younger generations to be... more > more last word articles >

'the sleepers' daily blog

Manchester's masterplan with Transport for Greater Manchester

12/03/2019Manchester's masterplan with Transport for Greater Manchester

Simon Warburton, transport strategy director at Transport for Greater Manchester, outlines the region’s ambitious vision for the future. First things first – the good news: Greater Manchester is a success. Over the past 20 years, we have transformed this city-region into a confident, ambitious, and outward-looking conurbation ... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


Are you an apprentice or provider in the rail industry? We want to hear from you…

13/03/2019Are you an apprentice or provider in the rail industry? We want to hear from you…

Last week was National Apprenticeship Week (NAW), celebrating the positive impact apprenticeships make not just on the individual apprentices the... more >
Safety of technical systems: the next 30 years

12/03/2019Safety of technical systems: the next 30 years

George Bearfield, visiting professor of railway system safety at the University of Huddersfield and director of health and safety at Rock Rail, t... more >
Delivering innovation through collaboration with Rambus

12/03/2019Delivering innovation through collaboration with Rambus

Russell McCullagh, vice president and general manager of ticketing at Rambus, tells more on the company’s collaboration with Worldline to a... more >
HS2: Cutting through Cumbria

12/03/2019HS2: Cutting through Cumbria

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce is arguing for HS2 services from London to call at Carlisle, Oxenholme and Penrith. The chamber’s policy lead, ... more >

rail industry focus

View all News


Women in rail - is the industry on the right track?

12/03/2019Women in rail - is the industry on the right track?

RTM sits down with Samantha Smith, sole female member of the TransPennine Route Upgrade Alliance Leadership Team, to find out more about encourag... more >
TfN Strategic Transport Plan: not just for transport's sake

22/01/2019TfN Strategic Transport Plan: not just for transport's sake

Peter Molyneux, Transport for the North’s (TfN’s) strategic roads director, has been leading on the development of the seven economic... more >
Exclusive: Midlands Connect and WMRE talk collaboration and investment in the Midlands' railway

22/01/2019Exclusive: Midlands Connect and WMRE talk collaboration and investment in the Midlands' railway

In the jigsaw puzzle of regional transport decision-making, there must be collaboration and compromise. Midlands Connect media lead James Bovill ... more >