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Railfreight needs room for growth WALES\\\


At first glance, rail freight in Wales seems healthy. According to Rail Freight Group Welsh representative, Robin


Smith,


something like 15% of all UK rail freight tonnes originate in or are destined for the Principality. All well and good, until one


breaks down the statistics. Most Welsh


rail freight are heavy,


traditional bulks like coal and steel. (Incidentally, it is almost all South Wales traffic, with just a little using the line that runs along the Wales England border and negligible volumes to North- West Wales.) The prospects for growth in these sectors are not particularly bright. Coal is in structural long-term decline and there is no sign yet that biomass will replace it as a rail traffic. The car industry still uses


a lot of South Wales steel at the moment, but again this is vulnerable to shiſts in sources of supply; imports by sea from the Pacific Rim could replace Welsh


material. One of the main growth traffics


on the British rail network as a whole are containers and other intermodal units. There are a small handful of flows into Wales, from Southampton and Daventry to


Freightliner’s Wentloog


terminal near Cardiff and another to ABP’s terminal at Barry. However, the rail routes


into


Wales are all quite restricted in terms of the size of container that can be carried at the moment. RFG would like the Welsh


rail network to be enlarged to W10 gauge – which would allow standard-width 9’ 6” high containers


to be carried on


regular rail wagons – and the work could be incorporated into the ongoing electrification of the South Wales Main Line. Electrification of the route from London and the East is going ahead, albeit slightly delayed, and much of the work does involve increasing the route’s structure


gauge to make room for the overhead electric wires. However there are some structures outwith the electrification project that would still need enlargement and it would be a pity if the opportunity was lost to do this at the same time, when sections of the route are having to be closed for electrification anyway – rather than arrange a further programme of work and more line closures at some time in the future. Even Brunel’s Severn Tunnel is


clearable to W10 gauge – though information on the subject


is


admittedly vague, says Smith. In any case an alternative, somewhat longer, route into South Wales via the Swindon- Kemble-Gloucester Line is available; this route itself has been doubled and upgraded to provide a diversion route while the South Wales Main Line is being electrified. Then there is North Wales


Liſt off for Welsh chopper specialist


Smiths Solutions based in Hope, near Wrexham, is one of a very select number of freight forwarders in North Wales. However, as with many companies in the sector, its business comes from all over the UK and, indeed, overseas. A forwarder can be based virtually anywhere, points out managing director, Matt Smith – though one of his location criteria is to avoid “overpriced office and storage space at an airport or sea port.” That said, the company does


have some business from local Welsh firms, mainly from the Wrexham area itself and the North Wales coast. But the company is perhaps


most notable for the specialism it has developed in the helicopter transport business. Helicopters are great at getting into awkward spots but they don’t have a huge range so need the help of other modes of transport if they need to be moved long distances. Smith explains: “We got into helicopter transport via a pilot friend many years ago now.” As well as special shipping equipment such as


open top or flat rack containers, “we oſten need to have cranes or demountable containers for loading the helicopters. We also work with a lot of helicopter engineers around the world who will remove rotor blades and carry out pre shipment work as required. We are not the only forwarder that does it but we do specialise in it.” Recently, Smiths has moved


choppers from the UK to India by air freight and return, a Bell 407 and a Alloette II 318C from the UK to US, both by ocean freight, an Agusta A109E Grande and a Bell 407 from South Africa


to UK by air freight. Helicopters can also be moved by road. Niche areas are a promising


area for small forwarders, and Smiths Solutions is currently exploring offering a specialised classic car shipping/import service to complement the helicopters. In an age when the big boys


are oſten limiting themselves to standard freight with many now refusing to handle cross trades or personal effects, companies such as Smiths are “a one stop shop for anything. We will do it for our customers - we are not in a position to refuse work.”


Issue 5 2015 - Freight Business Journal 29


to consider. There are no firm plans yet to electrify the North Wales Coast Main Line from Crewe via Chester to Bangor and Holyhead, but


it is something


Welsh politicians are very keen on, Smith says. The route now handles very


little freight, a far cry when it was the main route for container traffic to Ireland and the then Sealink – British Rail’s shipping arm – operated its own lo lo ship between Holyhead and Dublin. Freightliner container trains were a very common sight, but with the ending of the shipping link, such lo lo traffic to Ireland that remains all travels via Liverpool. However, says Smith, “an


interesting case was recently put forward for an Irish land bridge from Daventry – or Continental Europe – via Holyhead.” A study suggested that it could be viable if it attracted just 5% of the current ro ro freight market. However, says Smith, “the


scheme hasn’t had great support from the Welsh Government though I did bang the drum for it as part of the Welsh Government’s ‘Task and Finish’ group on freight.” If containers could be got


moving along the North Wales Coast Line, there could even be a case for a small domestic terminal to service the local supermarket trade, along similar lines to those in northern Scotland. “There are possibilities,” insists Smith. “The market has to demonstrate its requirements and the industry will respond. At least I would encourage people to think about the possibilities.” Meanwhile Network rail’s new


Wales Route Study envisages a number of general improvements including rebuilding of major junctions with flyovers, extra tracks and more or longer freight bypass loops. One other case that Smith would like the Government


to consider is the proposed £14 billion scheme to build a replacement nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey. “If that gets the go-ahead, it will be the biggest civil engineering project in Wales for decades, with both large amounts of aggregates and specialised kit,” Smith points out.


Current thinking is to bring the


bulk of the material in by sea, but that would entail building a jetty and breakwater on a coastline that is not only a Site of Special Scientific Interest, but a very windy and inhospitable one too. It could be far less environmentally- damaging to bring the material in by rail, via the North Wales Coast Main Line and the currently mothballed freight branch line that used to serve a now demolished chemical works at Amlwch. There is even a disused freight terminal at Rhosgoch, the nearest point of the branch railway to the Wylfa site.


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