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COMMENT


Freight trains, freight gains, from


T Transport consultant David Thrower, who has contributed to the Transport Select Committee inquiry into high-speed


rail and the recent All-Party Parliamentary Group for High-Speed Rail report, discusses the issues surrounding rail freight and HS2.


he announcement by Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Transport,


in


January that the Government is to proceed with High Speed 2 was a turning point in the development of Britain’s railways. But in some ways, ‘High Speed 2’ is a misnomer. Certainly,


is bright. New rail-side terminals, companies’ low-carbon policies, larger locomotives, higher clearances for taller containers, low-floor wagons, better scheduling, smarter distribution systems, faster turnrounds, quicker intermodal handling – all these are bringing new business to rail.


Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose, M&S, Sainsburys, Asda, the Co-op and B&Q are all now using rail. Tesco, which led the way, is claiming 110,000


HGV


the trains that will run to Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and beyond will operate over the new line at fully 100mph faster than the current UK maximum. This will change the perception of passenger travel between the South and North for ever.


But the new line is more about capacity than speed. And this includes freight on the existing West Coast Main Line. Massive growth in passenger demand on Virgin West Coast has been paralleled by a steady rise in WCML intermodal and container traffic, some from the Haven Ports via Nuneaton and some from London and Daventry.


It is a paradox that, whilst most of us are aware of, say, overcrowding out of Euston, or the excellent three-an-hour service between London and Manchester, we are (unless we work in rail freight) very much less conscious of freight, and of future freight demand.


In that case, next time you whizz northwards from Euston and pass the north end of Wembley Yard, look out on the right hand side for those long container trains waiting patiently for a timetable slot northwards amongst the London Midland semi-fast and commuter trains. These freights are not so much important as vital, bringing imports to the Midlands, North and Scotland and moving exports southwards. And the future for intermodal and container freight


26 | rail technology magazine Aug/Sep 12


journeys a year saved, with a carbon reduction of 39,000 tonnes. Fewer motorway trucks, less congestion, less carbon, better reliability for customers: it’s a quadruple-win situation.


And the forecasts done for the Rail Freight Group are for ever-greater future increases, with UK rail freight forecast to exceed 50 billion tonne kilometres by 2030.


Particular


growth is expected in port-based non-bulk traffic, up from 4.9 billion tonne kilometres in 2006 to an anticipated 19.9


BTK. Domestic


non-bulk traffic (such as the supermarkets’ business) is expected to grow from just 1.0 BTK in 2006 to 14.8 BTK.


But these ever-heavier freight trains are largely unnoticed by the general public. And that’s a pity. Because, every time these freights have to sit awaiting a green signal, or stand patiently in loops being overtaken by passenger services, they waste money, with costly drivers and wagons going nowhere, and with goods taking longer to reach its destination. We are all paying for that.


To carry future increased traffic


along trunk main lines such as the West Coast, something therefore has to give.


The solution, practised in France and Germany with success, has been to build new high speed passenger lines, taking most of the inter-city expresses off the existing network. The ‘classic’ lines can then concentrate on what they do best, being used by regular-interval high-quality semi-fast and stopping passenger services and heavy freight. And, of course, the big spin- off is the speeding up of the faster passenger services, sending them by HS2 and knocking (in the case of London-Manchester) almost an hour off the schedules.


This will then enable existing (and new) rail freight operators to go to Network Rail and successfully seek additional paths on the classic network.


High Speed 2


© Luis Cruz


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