Delivering high levels of freight network performance

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 15

Paul McMahon (pictured, centre), director of freight at Network Rail, discusses the success of Britain’s rail freight sector and what Network Rail is doing to support this.

Rail freight is vital for the British economy. The Rail Delivery Group report ‘Freight Britain’ published earlier this year highlighted that rail freight moves goods worth than £30bn each year and provides annual economic benefits of £1.6bn.

Freight carries vital materials and products for industry and the economy, such as aggregate for construction, steel, iron ore, oil, and cars for export, as well as coal and biomass for energy generation. The intermodal sector has grown by more than 90% in a dozen years, and today one in four containers coming into Britain at our major ports are transported onwards by rail. Rail freight avoids the need for 7.6 million HGV movements – with the corresponding environmental and safety benefits.

Rail freight has been a success of privatisation. It has transformed itself over the 20 years since then into a more productive and competitive sector, comprised of five main rail freight operators and a number of smaller players. Total freight volumes moved have increased by nearly 80%, from 13.5bn net tonne km in 1995 to 23.9bn net tonne km in 2014-15.

Network Rail strongly supports rail freight. Whilst much of the focus for our engagement and leadership on freight issues comes through my National Freight Team, individuals and teams across the company work hard to support rail freight on the network every day.

The Network Rail Freight Team Vision is: ‘To deliver high levels of freight network performance, safety, capacity and capability at an efficient cost, supporting economic growth, and profitable and sustainable development of the rail freight sector.’ We want to deliver this through collaborative and trusting relationships with the sector. Achievement of our vision will be demonstrated both in the numbers – performance statistics, freight volumes, etc – but also by freight operator, end user and stakeholder satisfaction.

Our ‘bread and butter’ is delivering performance. Freight continues to operate increasingly reliably, as the two key freight performance measures demonstrate. The Freight Delivery Metric (FDM), which measures the number of trains on time (to 15 minutes) in relation to Network Rail caused delays, is running around 95%. And Arrivals to Fifteen (A2F), which measures whole sector performance (to 15 minutes), is running around 83%.

One of the biggest challenges the sector faces is delivering the capacity required to realise the growth projections in 2013’s Freight Market Study. The Study identified growth opportunities of up to 140% by 2043 (compared to the 2011 baseline). We have assumed that freight volumes on the network will increase by some 20% during CP5: this equates to running around a further 150 trains per day over and above today’s numbers of around 700 on a typical weekday.

Over CP4, around £550m was invested through the Strategic Freight Network (SFN) fund, and from other funds, to enhance the capacity and capability of the network. A further £250m of investment is planned in CP5, including undertaking crucial works to enhance the capacity of the Felixstowe branch line.

There is a common misconception that the SFN is just a fund to deliver physical capacity and capability enhancements. But the SFN encompasses more than that and is a concept for running freight on Britain’s busy mixed-use railway. The nine key principles outlined by the DfT when they introduced the SFN in 2007 include not only making provision for longer and heavier trains and increasing capacity, but also efficient operations of freight and protection of strategic freight capacity.

Network Rail works with train operators to run longer and heavier trains. Where there is a demand by an operator, and if the infrastructure and timetable can accommodate them, we run the longer and heavier services under trial conditions – known as a Service Plan Review – to assess the operational impact. If the trial is successful, we establish the new train in the permanent timetable. Currently, 35 such trials are ongoing to enable end users to carry more volume on existing services.

To protect the capacity being created by both new investment and by freight operators releasing unused freight paths on the network, the Strategic Capacity Statement has been developed. This is a catalogue of freight paths, which is being populated to mirror the number of paths required to deliver the volumes set out in the Freight Market Study. As paths are released by operators, or created through investment, they are listed in the Strategic Capacity Statement. Through collaboration with freight operators, we have seen 1,856 paths released, of which 1,330 have been returned to the timetable, and 494 have been retained as Strategic Capacity. Changes to the Network Code are underway to give more protection to the paths within the Strategic Capacity Statement to support the future needs of freight.

Network Rail also plays a part in the development of freight terminals. Through the so-called Mountfield project in 2014, we acquired more than 100 traffic generating and receiving sites, typically in the construction and metals sectors, in addition to our existing property portfolio. We work closely with third parties to develop new origin and destination railhead facilities and enhancements to existing railheads.

Greater capacity will also be achieved through the development of the Digital Railway and we are working with the sector to identify how accelerating digital-enablement of the railway can help support efficient freight growth.

With constraints on the capital budget, we are increasingly looking for operational solutions to support freight growth. Innovative ways of increasing capacity at lower cost mean that Network Rail can support rail freight to continue to grow and bring benefit to both the UK economy and the environment.


Nonsuchmike   13/08/2015 at 12:01

Whilst applauding the new Nuneaton crossover, the Ipswich Bacon Cord and the Joan Croft crossover in Yorkshire to name but three improvements which will greatly assist the flow of freight in GB, I fail to see the economic sense in only doubling part of the Felixstowe branch line instead of the whole in the next Control Period. Surely it will cost more, take longer to complete and be more difficult the longer it is left. If a new bridge or a new tunnel and slight re-alignment are needed, then it cannot be beyond the wit of the Freight Group and other planners to see that if the largest container ships in the world can dock @ Felixstowe, why cannot we get double tracks to export and import quicker? Do that, & we suggest that the 2043 freight targets will be reached by 2028 or sooner. We have to spend out money to reap the rewards of efficiency and greater trade.

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