Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum by the Strategic Rail Authority (P37A)

MAJOR PORTS AND THE WORK OF THE STRATEGIC RAIL AUTHORITY

  This paper follows that submitted by the SRA on 27 February 2001 about Major Ports, and the oral evidence given by the Chairman and the Chief Executive on 1 May about the work of the Strategic Rail Authority.

1.  WHAT PROPORTION OF THE FREIGHT TRAFFIC CURRENTLY CARRIED ON THE UNITED KINGDOM'S RAIL NETWORK IS MADE UP TO LOADS OF TRAVELLING TO AND FROM PORTS? HOW IMPORTANT TO THE SUCCESS OF THE AUTHORITY'S FREIGHT STRATEGY IS IT THAT SUCH TRAFFIC IS INCREASINGLY CARRIED BY RAIL?

  The precise figure of rail freight travelling to and from ports is not calculated, but is estimated to be around 50 per cent. Ports play an increasingly important role in the supply chain, as globalisation becomes a more prominent feature of trade and products are sourced from around the world as readily as from local manufacturers. Global logistics are very much a reality and thus it is vital that the ports themselves are provided with efficient and cost-effective transport links to the market.

  A key part of the Authority's freight strategy is concerned with the movement of freight to and from ports and as the economy grows, without a corresponding increase in the UK's manufacturing base, this traffic inevitably assumes an increasing degree of importance. In order to achieve the government's freight modal shift objectives, as outlined in the Ten Year Plan, it is essential that an increasing percentage of this business is moved by rail. The Government's Policy Paper on UK Ports—"Modern Ports"—of November, states clearly on pages 28 and 29 that port freight is important to the rail industry, especially for bulk cargoes and containers.

(a)  What discussions have you had with ports operators, and with rail freight companies, about improving rail linkes to the major container ports in particular? How enthusiastic are ports operators that rail links to their ports are improved?

  Port operators are increasingly keen to see improvements in rail access and in the rail network more generally, recognising both the Government's desire to see modal shift towards rail and the constraints of road haulage as road congestion worsens and the availability of HGV drivers continues to be a problem. This is likely to be exacerbated when Working Time Directive is applied to road haulage within the next three years. It is possible that, for future major port developments, planning authority will be granted on the condition that a specified percentage of traffic must be moved by rail. The Authority's freight team is working currently on a number of schemes to improve connections to ports or to reconnect ports to the rail network and is also working closely with other partners on new port projects where additional demands on rail capacity will be made by the flows generated by such developments.

  The Authority has a designated officer with responsibility for developing international business via the ports and the Channel Tunnell. Regular liason meetings take place with individual ports and the two trade associations representing them. Meetings have been held with Felixstowe, Bristol, Portsmouth, Dover, Killingholme, Immingham and Thamesport with a view to identifying means of increasing rail-borne traffic. Meetings are also held with existing and potential freight train operators.

  The Authority is considering a number of applications from ports for Freight Facilities Grants to invest in facilities designed to transfer freight from road to rail, from Kings Lynn, Workington, Immingham, Port of Tyne, Boston, Sheerness, Seaham and Runcorn.

  It is recognised that, in order to justify investment, there needs to be a critical mass of traffic with the potential to move by rail which, inevitably precludes some of the smaller ports from obtaining a link to the rail network, but there is, nevertheless, increasing evidence that port operators are keen to see rail links developed and improved.

(b)  What should the response of the railway be to the increasing height of containers? How much will it cost to increase the gauge of the railway to accommodate large containers?

  Currently around 19 per cent of containers are 9'6" in height and this proportion is increasing as existing 8'6" boxes are replaced by larger units. Estimates vary, but it is generally considered that over 90 per cent of containers will be of 9'6" in height by 2020 at the latest. If rail is to remain in the container movement business, there must be the capability to move such boxes on key routes.

  These containers can only be moved currently in the UK on special low "well" wagons, which effectively reduce the payload of containers per train and significantly reduce rail's competitive position with road. Road hauliers can carry either type of box on the same vehicles.

  The Authority has commissioned studies to identify the costs associated with enhancing the gauge to "W12" (the 9'6" container gauge with capacity for 2.6 metre width) on two key routes—from Felixstowe to the North West via Ely and Nuneaton and from Southampton to Birmingham via Didcot. These studies will identify the costs of the gauge enhancement programmes concerned.

  It is forecast that container traffic will continue to grow significantly—probably by 50 per cent by 2010—and the objective of the studies is to identify the cost and means of delivering a substantial increase in rail capacity as well as gauge enhancement.

(c)  What prospect is there of "piggyback" services, with semi-trailers being carried on rail wagons, being introduced in the United Kingdom? Which particular routes should be served by such services?

  "Piggyback" gauge is only an issue on routes to and from Cross Channel and Irish Sea ports. The Authority has, at present, no definitive plans to provide for "piggyback" services to and from these locations. Studies are, however, currently being undertaken to identify the incremental cost involved in extending from "W12" to "W18" gauge, to facilitate the passage of 4 metre semi-trailers, on routes between the East Coast ports and the North West (Trans-Pennine) and between the Channel Tunnel/Dover and London. In parallel, other work is being carried out to determine the likely revenues that would be generated by such enhancement.

2.  TO WHAT EXTENT DOES THE COMPETITIVE NATURE OF THE PORTS INDUSTRY, WHICH CAN MEAN THAT THE USAGE OF INDIVIDUAL PORTS IS SOMEWHAT UNPREDICTABLE, AFFECT YOUR DECISIONS ABOUT INVESTMENTS IN RAIL LINKS TO PORTS?

  The unpredictable nature of port traffic, where shipping lines can and do switch business between ports represents a serious issue as far as rail investment is concerned.

  Investment in links to ports is subject to the same value for money assessments that are applied to other areas. In the case of container traffic, for example, the growth, based on previous experience and sound economic forecasting techniques, can be forecast with some accuracy, although there still remains the ability of shipping lines to switch between ports in the UK and, indeed, on the continent. For Roll-On-Roll-Off traffic, growth can be forecast with equal accuracy, but bulk cargoes tend to have an inherently greater degree of uncertainty, especially in the case of relatively smaller ports.

  In addition to the customary value for money examinations, we also take care to assess the possibility of traffic switching from a port where significant investment is sought and the impact of such moves. The Freight Facilities Grant process incorporates safeguards but investment in the rail network itself presents a more difficult position which is recognised in the assessment process.

  The volume of traffic, in total, will continue to grow, but there will undoubtedly be variations between ports and this is assessed as individual investments are considered.

3.  WHAT IS YOUR RESPONSE TO THE SUGGESTION THAT WHAT IS NEEDED FROM YOU IS "SOME URGENCY". WHEN DO YOU INTEND TO MOVE FROM CONDUCTING STUDIES INTO RAIL LINKS TO PORTS TO ACTUALLY MAKING INVESTMENTS IN SUCH LINKS?

  There are a number of schemes already under investigation through the Freight Facilities Grant and the network investment programme, which are detailed below.

    —  upgrade of the link between Felixstowe and the West Coast Main Line at Nuneaton

    —  upgrade of the route between Southampton and Birmingham

    —  gauge enhancement between Channel Tunnel/Dover and London

    —  gauge enhancement on the Trans-Pennine route

    —  re-instatement of the link between Dover and the rail network

    —  an inter-modal facility in Portsmouth for port and other traffic

    —  re-instatement of the link to Kings Lynn (initially for non-port traffic)

    —  investment in new facilities at the Humber International Terminal at Immingham

    —  improvement of the rail facilities at Thamesport and on the Isle of Grain branch line

    —  re-instatement of the rail link to Portbury Docks and upgrading of rail facilities at the following ports:

      —  Neath Abbey

      —  Workington

      —  Port of Tyne

      —  Boston

      —  Sheerness

      —  Seaham

      —  Runcorn

      —  Par

  In addition to the investments being considered, it is anticipated that work will shortly be proceeding at Thamesport on the Isle of Grain in Kent, with a view to completion in November 2001, to introduce much needed flexibility for the various traffic arriving there.

17 May 2001


 
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