Support intermodal terminals to achieve modal shift
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.