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Government reiterates support for strategic rail freight interchanges

The government has reiterated its support for strategic rail freight interchanges (SRFIs) for driving economic growth, despite many of them facing local opposition and planning delays. 

The  National Networks National Policy Statement (NNNPS) says the government will seek to “accommodate an increase in rail travel and rail freight where it is practical and affordable by providing for extra capacity”. 

Rail freight transports over 100 million tonnes of goods per year, and the amount of freight moved has expanded by 75% since 1994-95. It is also estimated that this contributes £1.5bn per year to the UK’s economy. 

And, according to the 2013 Network Rail Freight Market Study, total tonne-kilometres are forecast to grow by 3% annually to 2043, the same rate of growth seen in the mid-1990s. 

The NNNPS adds that the government’s strategy is to provide for the “increasing use of efficient and sustainable electric trains for both passenger and freight services”. This is because the environmental performance of the railway will be improved by continuing to roll out a programme of rail electrification. 

However, senior members of the freight industry recently told the Transport Select Committee that the prospect of freight electrification in CP6 is beginning to look distant because of the electrification overruns in CP5

SRFI network 

The government also noted that the development of an SRFI network, aiding the transfer of freight from road to rail, will play an important role in reducing trip mileage of freight movements on the national and local road networks. 

In particular, the development of additional capacity at Felixstowe North Terminal and the construction of London Gateway will lead to a significant increase in logistics operations. This will increase the need for SRFI development to reduce the dependence on road haulage to serve the major markets. 

Transport minister John Hayes MP said: “There is a critical need to improve the national networks to address road congestion and crowding on the railways, to facilitate safe and reliable journeys, and to provide a transport network that is capable of stimulating and supporting economic growth. There is also an equally important need to ensure improvements have minimal impact on the environment, are well designed and improve safety. 

“The NNNPS sets the policy against which the secretary of state for transport will make decisions on applications for development consent for nationally significant infrastructure projects on the road and rail networks and strategic rail freight interchanges. The statement is based on existing government policy and only applies to England.” 

Despite industry calls for SRFIs, there has been opposition against such proposals. For instance, at the proposed Radlett SRFI St Albans and District Council (SADC) has lodged a claim in the High Court, as part of its seven-year battle, against the proposal

The proposed East Midlands Gateway freight depot, which would be built on farmland and woodland close to junction 24 of the M1, has also faced local opposition. 

After the release of the latest NNNPS, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) welcomed the recognition of the importance of SRFIs to “delivering the growth potential of rail freight”. 

Chris Welsh, FTA director of global and European policy, said: “This is predicated upon the Freight Market Study produced under Network Rail’s Long Term Planning Process as now established by the Office of Rail Regulation.  

“FTA recognises this as key to achieving modal shift from road, but while we welcome the publication we also believe that this needs to focus on a customer driven agenda for improvement across the rail freight industry.” 


Maggie Simpson, executive director at the Rail Freight Group (RFG), told RTM: “Rail freight is already moving goods worth £30bn each year and we want to see that grow further.  By supporting rail freight in the planning system, government has given confidence to those looking to invest in, and use, new rail linked facilities across the UK.”

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