Freight’s bat­tle

Rail (UK) - - Contents - Richard Clin­nick As­sis­tant Edi­tor richard.clin­nick@bauer­me­

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.

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