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NR timetabling shake-up to repurpose almost 5,000 freight paths for passenger use

A massive timetabling change is being implemented on the rail network over the next two years by Network Rail, which will see 4,702 allocated freight paths per week be relinquished to free up capacity for passenger services.

The infrastructure owner says that the vacant paths – slots freight trains have on the railway and in the timetable – can now be used by operators to run additional services or re-time existing services to create a more reliable, less congested railway.

The changes are being implemented after NR, working with the freight industry over two years, identified 50% of reserved slots on the railway for freight were not being used and could be turned over for use by passenger trains.

It also follows the Rail Freight Group last year warning the government that freight should not be neglected when implementing reforms after changes announced by transport secretary Chris Grayling included bringing infrastructure management under the remit of TOCs in future franchises.

The spare capacity can allegedly be put down to the decline in coal, iron and steel traffic, as well as advances with engineering that have ensured freight operations are run with longer and fuller trains.

Paul McMahon, Network Rail’s managing director for freight and national passenger operators, argued it was important for the whole rail industry to work together to make the best use of network capacity in order to minimise the need for additional expensive capacity enhancement schemes.

“This is a real win-win and has truly been a collaborative piece of work with the freight operators,” he said. “Capacity has been freed up for the whole railway but essential capacity is reserved for freight operators. This is important given the need to support the growth of freight on the network to support the economy.”

Russell Mears, chief executive of Freightliner and chair of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) Freight Group, explained that freight operators worked together with the infrastructure owner in an “effective and pragmatic way for the wider industry good”.

“Whilst retaining some key paths as strategic capacity to support future freight growth, the release of other residual paths is essential in helping the government get the best value for money from our capacity constrained railway,” added Mears.

A spokesperson for the RDG also underlined the importance of the railway for Britain’s jobs and economy.

“The railway has become one of the busiest in the world with thousands more trains running and passenger numbers doubling in the last 20 years, which is why rail companies are working together to deliver more than £50bn of improvements and harnessing technology to run services more efficiently and reliably,” the spokesperson stated.

“Rail freight companies are more efficient than ever before by using longer trains and modern technology, and working with NR they have made more room on the network for extra services.”

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Noam Bleicher   05/04/2017 at 08:17

I must admit I had been wondering why the decline in coal and steel bulk traffic [which runs at 60 mph] was seen as a bad thing, when demand for 75 mph intermodal and passengers services persistently outstrips supply.

Pdeaves   05/04/2017 at 09:33

Further improvements may be available if technological improvements could be made to improve freight train braking, allowing them to run faster. Obviously this will need some research and development first to devise a new system!

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