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Issue 6 2012

///SOUTHAMPTON Freightliner boxes clever to boost capacity

In late August, Freightliner installed the railway equivalent of two post-Panamax cranes at its Southampton Docks terminal. Replacing much smaller 1972-vintage craneage, they are a quantum leap above the machinery they replace, says Freightliner commercial director,

Keith Gray. Thanks to their ability to span

more tracks, the new cranes will allow more tracks at the Docks terminal to be brought into commercial use; at the moment, some tracks are used mainly to store wagons awaiting attention at the nearby maintenance facility.

The extra capacity will in turn

allow Freightliner to concentrate traffic on the Docks terminal, transferring the four trains that it currently operates through its second Southampton facility at Millbrook. The latter can handle only 16-wagon trains, as opposed to 24 at the Docks, and has the

added disadvantage that it is a

road-shunt away from the docks whereas the Docks terminal can be served direct by port handling equipment. Access by rail to and from Millbrook is also difficult because it is right alongside the busy Bournemouth to London main line; finding paths among

the frequent passenger trains for shunting movements can be difficult. Initially, storage of wagons

awaiting maintenance work will be transferred to Millbrook, but the long-term future of the terminal has still to be decided. It could be suitable for some Freightliner traffic; equally, it might be of interest to a third-party operator. Freightliner has had a number of approaches over the years. A combination of the new

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cranes’ faster operation and the fact that all trains can be 24 wagons will increase Freightliner’s capacity at Southampton by the equivalent of three new trains per day, but without the need to seek out extra train paths on the crowded railways of southern England. New ‘Shortliner’ wagons, which will create a much better fit between the boxes to be carried and available wagon capacity will also be coming on stream about then too. Rail already has a 30% share

of the Southampton market – the largest of any container port in the UK, and Freightliner in turn has 80% of the container-on-rail market at the port, moving around 1,000 boxes per day. “We hope to increase it further,” Keith

says Gray, “but some

traffic is just not relevant to rail.” London, for instance, is too close to Southampton for rail to offer a cost- and time-effective alternative to road, although trains can sometimes be competitive over surprisingly short distances. “It can work if you can get a quick turnaround of the loco and wagons – for instance to Cardiff, which is probably our shortest distance,” Keith Gray explains. One possibility he has looked at is a service from Southampton to Swindon – around 100 miles distant – which could be viable as an intensive two- or three- times-a-day shuttle operation. But in general, the Midlands and northwards is rail’s main market in Southampton. The cost of

liſting boxes on NEC Birmingham, 23 – 25 April 2013

and off trains is another element that makes it harder for rail to compete on shorter hauls. “If a haulier comes into the port, he essentially gets the box liſted on for free, whereas we have all this infrastructure to pay for,” Gray points out. “That is maybe £40 per box and it’s a key difference” - and as it is a flat charge, it hits shorter

distance traffic proportionately

harder. It might be helpful if the Department for Transport’s existing modal shiſt grant, which is paid on a per-mile was instead used to bring handling costs more into line, he argues. But much good work has been

done to make the railways fully competitive

at Southampton.

Gauge-clearance work on the main route to the Midlands and North was completed 18 months ago and this has boosted the number of high-cube 9’6” high boxes on rail by 76%. “That isn’t a 76% increase in our total business,” Gray points out. “Some traffic will have switched from low-cube boxes.” Nevertheless, gauge clearance

was a major step forward and it has led to the elimination of well wagons or lowliners on all but the routes to the North-East and Cardiff. Gauge clearance on a

second diversionary route out of Southampton is nearing completion, which will greatly increase flexibility. Southampton is to be the

southern terminus of the ‘Electric Spine’ scheme to create a north- south route electrified on the modern

25-kilovolt overhead

system, a plan unveiled by the government a few weeks ago. Specifically, as far as the Southampton area is concerned, it would involve converting the existing low-voltage ‘third rail’ electrification on the line to Basingstoke to the overhead system, along with new electrification north of there to the Midlands. But the Electric Spine scheme

isn’t on Keith Gray’s radar just yet. “It’s about six or seven years away, so it won’t make any difference to our immediate planning,” he points out. In any case, it would take more than just wiring-up of the main lines to make electric traction

viable proposition for

freight operators. “You would need electrification right to where you want your train to go.” . If the last few miles into

Freightliner’s terminals are not electrified, and that generally is the case at the moment, it would mean having diesel locos and drivers waiting at the end of the electrified sections which tends to be complicated and unproductive – and would probably negate any savings from electric haulage over the main line.

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