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UK rail freight shake-up

Network Rail and the rail freight industry will cooperate to overhaul timetables and free up almost 5000 weekly slots for passenger and freight services
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A massive timetable shake-up is being implemented after Britain’s rail freight industry collaborated over a two-year, industry-wide review into more efficient freight operations.

Together, Network Rail and freight operators identified 50% of the reserved slots on the railway for freight trains were not being used and could potentially be given up for thousands of new passenger and freight services.

Per week, 4,702 allocated paths have been relinquished, freeing-up much needed capacity on the rail network. They could become available for all train operators to run additional services on a daily basis or re-time existing services to reduce congestion and improve reliability.

Overall, freight has seen a 70% increase since the mid-1990s. This additional capacity has been created at zero cost and has not led to any reductions in the number of freight trains running on the network. It represents a huge opportunity for both freight and passenger operators to increase traffic on the network without the need for expensive infrastructure enhancement schemes.

The spare capacity can be attributed to a number of factors:

  • The unprecedented decline in coal traffic over the last two years, and a dip in iron and steel
  • More efficient freight operations including running longer, fuller, heavier trains
  • Savvy timetabling and better freight industry productivity, running fewer, part-loaded freight trains, reducing wasted capacity.

Meanwhile, construction and intermodal freight traffic is growing on the rail network and additional paths are needed in order to support the economy across Britain.

1,000 of the removed paths have been safeguarded for future strategic freight growth, which is essential to allow for expected increases in key freight markets. "The rail freight market can have the confidence that future traffic growth can take place without being hindered by the need to always build additional capacity," stated NR.

Paul McMahon, Network Rail’s managing director for freight and national passenger operators said: “It is important the whole rail industry works together to make best use of existing capacity, to minimise the need for additional expensive capacity enhancement schemes."

Russell Mears, CEO of Freightliner and Chair of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “The freight operators and Network Rail have worked together 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.”

Rail freight takes 7.6M lorry journeys off Britain's roads each year.

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