Sup­port in­ter­modal ter­mi­nals to achieve modal shift

Rail (UK) - - Open Access - John Chap­man, Kent

I was in­ter­ested to read the com­ments made by GB Rail­freight Man­ag­ing Direc­tor John Smith, and by Christian Wol­mar, on the im­por­tance of rail freight traf­fic to the UK’s econ­omy ( RAIL 864).

It was pointed out that in or­der to achieve modal shift from road to rail in the fast-mov­ing con­sumer goods and re­tail mar­kets, there must be in­ter­modal ter­mi­nals where car­gos - gen­er­ally in con­tain­ers or swap-bod­ies - can be trans­ferred from trains to HGVs for the ‘fi­nal mile’.

In the early part of this cen­tury, the Strate­gic Rail Au­thor­ity put to­gether a pol­icy doc­u­ment that pro­posed a na­tional net­work of such ter­mi­nals. This was sub­se­quently adopted by the De­part­ment for Trans­port as it aligned with the govern­ment’s then stated desire for modal shift.

A num­ber of ter­mi­nals have been pro­posed by devel­op­ers us­ing pri­vate funds, but after years of plod­ding through the plan­ning process, very lit­tle has been achieved. This is par­tic­u­larly ev­i­dent in the South East, where the ma­jor­ity of pro­pos­als have been turned down and where to­day - with the ex­cep­tion of a small ter­mi­nal in Bark­ing - there is nowhere that con­tainer­ised goods can be trans­ferred be­tween road and rail.

In­ter­est­ingly, as about one-third of all freight com­ing through the Chan­nel Tun­nel and on the ferries is des­tined for Lon­don and the South East, the ab­sence of in­ter­change fa­cil­i­ties goes some way to ex­plain­ing why so lit­tle freight is con­veyed by rail through the Tun­nel, and why rail freight traf­fic vol­ume has reached only a small pro­por­tion of its po­ten­tial.

It has to be ac­knowl­edged that, in gen­eral, in­ter­modal in­ter­changes do not re­ally en­hance the land­scape. And al­though they will fa­cil­i­tate the re­duc­tion of HGV traf­fic on the road net­work re­gion­ally and na­tion­ally, they will gen­er­ate in­creased lorry traf­fic in the area where the ter­mi­nal is lo­cated.

In­evitably, ter­mi­nal pro­pos­als are con­tentious and are hotly con­tested by res­i­dents and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. Pub­lic in­quiries fol­low, which are paid for by the de­vel­oper - and whether or not they win the case, the cost will run into mil­lions of pounds.

In view of the his­toric lack of suc­cess, many devel­op­ers choose to in­vest their cash in projects that will have a bet­ter chance of be­ing granted plan­ning ap­proval, with­out the need to em­bark on years of ex­pen­sive plan­ning and in­quiries, rather than en­ter the mine­field that sur­rounds rail ter­mi­nal pro­pos­als.

These pub­lic in­quiries are nearly al­ways an ad­ver­sar­ial and lengthy com­bat be­tween lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the pro­moter and those op­posed to the scheme - and op­po­si­tion is open to any body or any in­di­vid­u­als. It is ex­tremely rare that the pro­moter will have any­one in sup­port.

If it is ac­cepted that in­ter­modal in­ter­changes are an essen­tial pre-req­ui­site to en­gi­neer­ing modal shift, and that the shift aligns with govern­ment pol­icy, it would seem to be a pos­i­tive step if some­one in au­thor­ity (other than the pro­moter) could take the stand at an in­quiry and con­firm that a par­tic­u­lar project is, in re­gional and na­tional terms, in the best in­ter­ests of the econ­omy and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Or per­haps I am just be­ing naively op­ti­mistic?


Cranes work at Manch­ester Freight­liner ter­mi­nal on Novem­ber 2012. John Chap­man says in­ter­modal ter­mi­nals can help gen­er­ate a modal shift from road to rail.

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