The British Rail Freight Group (RFG) has expressed its concern at the decision to defer delivery of critical rail freight enhancements as part of Sir Peter Hendy’s proposals for replanning Network Rail’s enhancement portfolio.
RFG has welcomed the confirmation that freight schemes will continue, but the timescales for completing projects under the Strategic Freight Network fund has been extended by up to five years. In particular, the upgrade of the Felixstowe branch line has been deferred with physical work not now programmed to start until 2019.
Maggie Simpson, RFG Executive Director, said: “Rail links are already running at capacity, yet one extra train a day to and from the Port of Felixstowe could keep 30,000 lorries a year off the road. We need urgent discussion now with Network Rail and Government to identify options for running more trains in the short term, and for ensuring the earliest possible delivery of key schemes.”
Philippa Edmunds, Freight on Rail Manager said: “There is suppressed demand for rail freight services so it is essential that capacity upgrades, especially on the port routes from Felixstowe, Southampton and Liverpool, get delivered as soon as possible to reduce road congestion, road crashes and pollution.”
Network Rail has come under mouting pressure due to project delays and cost overruns, such as the Great Western Railway electrification scheme. There have been calls to break it up into regional competencies, which could then be candidates for privatisation, although Network Rail's privatised predecessor Railtrack was a disaster. Rail freight interests are strongly opposed to breaking up the integrity of the network manager.
Figures just published (26th November) by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) show that rail freight traffic carried on the GB network in 2Q 2015-16 (July, August, September) figures was down 18.4% year-on-year to 21.1 Mt. The decrease was largely caused by a reduction in the amount of coal lifted, down 48.9% to 4.6 Mt from 9.0 Mt in 2Q 2014-15.
Simpson commented: "This has been a difficult year for rail freight, with coal traffic falling away and other sectors such as steel and international also beset by problems. Yet increases in construction traffic and continued good performance in intermodal shows that the sector is delivering well for its customers, and we should be confident of continued growth in these markets in future.”