Delivering for freight

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 16

Paul McMahon, managing director of freight and national passenger operators at Network Rail, discusses the core elements and plans for the new virtual freight route.

From carrying cars for export and supplying supermarkets to supporting our growing construction industry, rail freight helps keep Britain’s economy running. Every day an average of 54,000 tonnes of freight travels the length and breadth of the country by rail. 

It is no surprise then that the recent Shaw Report, on the future shape and financing of Network Rail, gave clear recognition to the importance of freight and proposed that Network Rail should establish a “virtual freight route”. 

Virtual freight route core elements 

At the end of May we announced that we would be establishing this new route, responding positively to the recommendations made by Nicola Shaw. Our plans for the new route are built around four core elements. 

First, the new, nationally-focused virtual route will be established alongside our existing eight geographical routes, building on the role and work of the national freight team. As freight services operate across two or more geographical routes, establishing a virtual route will provide clarity and greater focus on freight planning and delivery across the rail network. 

We want to ensure that the interests of freight customers are given fair treatment alongside passenger operators who are generally tied to a principal geographical route. This is going to become more important as Network Rail moves to an increasingly devolved and customer-focused environment. The customer scorecard for the new route will be at the heart of the relationships and our customer-centric delivery. 

Secondly, with safe operational performance being our core focus, we will continue to improve safety and reliability on the rail network and beyond. We will do this by working with freight operators and the owners of adjacent infrastructure, building on the excellent initiatives to promote better working together, such as the performance ‘control rooms’ at the port of Immingham and Drax power station. 

Thirdly, we want to seek more commercial opportunities – both to support the growth of rail freight, but also to secure third-party funding from end-users and other interested parties to boost the delivery of freight schemes in what we expect to be an increasingly financially-challenging environment as we compete for scarce public funding. 

Finally, we will establish strong governance practices within the new route. This will align with, and not duplicate, the existing and successful freight sector engagement, in particular RDG Freight Group and the Freight Joint Board. The new route will build upon the good reputation and levels of satisfaction within the existing national freight team, putting customer focus, collaboration, openness and trusted relationships with operators and the sector at the heart of how we work.

Collective steps to support freight 

We are working through the various arrangements for the new route and aim for this to take effect from September 2016. This work complements enhancements and upgrades already delivered and planned for the future. 

In CP4 we invested around £550m in capability and capacity enhancements through funds such as the Strategic Freight Network fund. More than £200m of additional investment is planned in CP5, including crucial works to enhance the capacity of the Felixstowe branch line and complete capacity and capability upgrades to other ports like Southampton, Liverpool and London Gateway.

Collectively, the steps we are taking firmly support the importance of freight to the rail network and to the British economy.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Jb   19/07/2016 at 19:18

Just exactly where would this new "virtual freight route" be? I suggest that a re-instated former GCR route to Sheffield and Manchester might be just the ticket for the long haul. There might even be some space for a few passenger trains too - which could alleviate capacity issues on other routes north.

John Grant   29/07/2016 at 14:40

@Jb: In my industry (data comms) "virtual" means you forget about inconvenient things like physical infrastructure, so I imagine it'll be in "the cloud".

Nonsuchmike   26/08/2016 at 13:28

Forgive my scepticism, Paul McM., but when I see/hear that work on dualling the Felixstowe branch line has actually started, that the Halton curve has been upgraded likewise, and that there is at least initial movement on the plans to reintroduce more steel track to provide alternative routes (the GCR across the pennines has already been mentioned, but Colne/Skipton also springs to mind) across strategically important parts of England, Wales and Scotland - then, and only then, will I believe that Network Rail, the Freight operating companies, the current Government and industry in general are being serious about a freight/passenger integrated network fit for the 21st Century as well as saving the environment by not emitting millions of tons of CO2 from road transport into the bargain.

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