GB Railfreight Managing Director John Smith warns rail freight “will fail” without more political support.
MORE political support is needed if the rail freight sector is to achieve its potential in boosting productivity and increasing the sustainability of the UK economy.
That’s the view of GB Railfreight Managing Director John Smith. Speaking at a reception held by the operator in London on October 9, Smith said it was time for the freight sector to set the agenda.
“Unless politicians are on-board and sowing the seeds of our importance to the UK, then we will fail,” he told attendees.
He warned that the rail industry is stagnating at a time when it should be the backbone of the economy, with huge opportunities from new markets such as multimodal services from ports to distribution centres, as well as innovations such as fast parcel trains which could bring deliveries into London and other big cities overnight for distribution (see Fleet News, pages 30-31).
Smith said that the sector needed support, not just from the Department for Transport but across Government, if the rail freight sector is to play its part in helping the UK deliver economic growth in all parts of the country.
“Investors have put money in and taken risks, and we will continue to do so if we see support,” he said.
Smith spoke of the opportunities arising from such expenditure, highlighting how Port of Felixstowe’s owner Hutchison Ports spent £100 million on new facilities at the Suffolk site as a result of improved rail services to the port.
He also described the political
advantages of moving freight from road to rail, using the example of the A14 which runs from Felixstowe to the Midlands.
“If you set the target as 150,000 boxes on rail, then there is a massively positive story for getting trucks off the roads,” he said.
Smith argued that investment decisions take too long, saying that the current doubling of sections of the Felixstowe branch had taken 15 years of lobbying. “While this will help current constraints, more needs to be done,” he urged.
Smith said that while the freight sector is realistic, in recognising that resource pressures dictate that projects would have to be piecemeal, there was a need to look at the returns that can be delivered from investment to remove bottlenecks on the system. He said he was concerned that these potential gains weren’t being assessed properly.
And he concluded that changes to the UK economy and population shifts over the decades demonstrate the need for new rail freight terminals, with strategic thinking regarding where these terminals will be located to ensure that rail can deliver goods and materials to the major population centres. He highlighted the importance of the Barking terminal to serving demand in London.
Smith also argued that rail freight could offer a solution to concerns about possible disruption of trade post-Brexit, given the volumes of goods that can be moved by trains and the potential for customs clearance away from the frontier for services originating in or arriving in the UK.
He said that there was huge potential from increased services using the Channel Tunnel.
@Clinnick1 See Wolmar, page 64-65.
Smith: “Unless politicians are on-board and sowing the seeds of our importance to the UK, then we will fail.”
GB Railfreight 60095 approaches West Bank Crossing, on the Drax Branch, with the 1200 Drax-Tyne biomass empties on October 10. GBRf Managing Director John Smith says freight can boost the UK economy if it is properly supported.