100. Maritime traffic is well suited to rail transport,
both for bulk commodities and containers. Ports already provide
about half of the total rail freight traffic and have potential
for additional volumes.
In 1999 Railtrack commissioned its own market analysis on the
prospects for rail growth. The study forecast that rail's share
of Britain's freight market could grow from 7 per cent to 21 per
cent by 2010-2011. This forecast was dependent on the strength
of the economy, freight transport policies, and continued efficiency
and service improvements from the rail industry.
101. We were told that the benefits of rail freight
are considerable in terms of reduced congestion and pollution.
"Since 1997 rail freight has kept 600m cargo tonnes off the
roads, cut 31.5 million lorry journeys and saved £800m in
congestion costs, plus £1.2 billion of environmental cost
in pollution, noise and accidents."
We are currently examining rail freight as part of our inquiry
into the Future of the Railways.
102. Although the number of ports into which rail
freight runs on a regular basis is relatively limited, the potential
is great. Many ports are physically connected to rail
and there could be scope for increased rail traffic to and from
these UK ports.
103. The Government's 10 Year Plan set out a strategy
for a large increase in the use of railways for both passenger
and freight traffic in order to reduce current and projected levels
of road congestion:
"delivering better access to ports and airports,
especially those where demand is expected to grow, is an important
objective of the Plan, and is reflected in each of the main investment
programmes it contains. Major ports and airports are important
transport hubs in their own right, and need to be better integrated
with the rest of the transport network."
104. The SRA told our predecessor that securing a
greater proportion of port traffic was a key part of their efforts
to achieve the 80 per cent growth target laid down by the 10 Year
Plan. They stated:
"We shall be addressing, in particular, the issues of gauge
and capacity on key routes in order to enable operators to run
bigger, faster, heavier and longer trains on a high quality, 24
hours per day, seven days per week network."
Their memorandum set out an impressive number of infrastructure
improvements already planned, or under active consideration.
105. Despite such commitment by the Government and
SRA, the ambition of the plans presented two years ago have not
been fulfilled. Rail freight has always had a lower priority than
passenger rail and this is reflected in the funding figures for
2003-2004. Rail freight revenue support and facilities grants
commitments were allocated some £40 million out of a £3.8
billion total rail spend. This potential investment has further
fallen victim to the overspend in other areas, not least the West
Coast Main Line upgrade. Consequently the Freight Facilities grant
has been suspended and, while existing commitments will be honoured,
no new projects will be considered in the current year because
of budgetary pressures.
106. This lack of investment and commitment has led
to deterioration in industry confidence. Maersk Sealand, one of
the largest merchant marine carriers, state that the level of
investment in rail freight will have serious implication for them
in terms of re routing.
"we are increasingly concerned that, in
addition to uncertainty about where new port capacity will be
built, there is now delay and uncertainty regarding road and rail
infrastructure improvements to the principal UK deep-sea container
It follows that we may have to delay investment
decisions, or worse, may ultimately be forced by our customers
to consider alternative North European routing. This is not something
we would wish to happen."
107. Without rail infrastructure and gauge enhancements
to ensure direct call by the international shipping lines, ports
cannot function effectively. Physical rail links to many UK ports
exist but are underutilised. The Government should produce a programme
and timetable for expanding their use as part of an integrated
transport policy. The failure of the Government to deliver on
its promises for better port access is threatening the competitiveness
of UK ports. The strategy for rail freight is currently low priority
in terms of funding, falling victim to overspending in other areas.
The Government should therefore ring-fence funding for rail freight
within the overall rail budget.
Specific Infrastructure Requirements
108. The rail network capacity problem is exacerbated
by the switch by many of the shipping lines to 9' 6'' high containers,
which cannot be transported on the majority of rail routes. The
physical dimensions of a railway vehicle and its load are determined
by a number of height and width profiles known as loading gauges.
The gauges available on the different rail routes depend on lineside
and overline structures. The smaller loading gauges (W6) are capable
of operating on virtually any route on the UK network. The larger
gauges however have greater headroom to enable them to carry taller
containers. Currently the maximum size of containers that can
be carried by rail on standard height wagons is 9'1" on W9
routes. These containers can be conveyed by rail without gauge
enhancement using purpose built 'well' wagons (wheels at end of
wagon with a lowered deck area). However, such trains carry 30
per cent less than standard wagons, and this imposes extra costs
on customers. In recent years, containers have got bigger: 'high
cube' 9'6" boxes now account for approximately 20 per cent
of the market, and is expected to reach 40 per cent by 2010, as
the older containers are replaced. Such containers require a higher
W10 or W12 loading gauge, and have major infrastructure implications.
109. The SRA has to date only committed to upgrading
the access to Felixstowe, and has recently indicated that it cannot
guarantee to provide gauge enhancements and capacity to serve
the proposed new developments at Dibden Bay or Shell Haven. Promoters
of the projects have been approached for contributions but the
costs of such investment are well beyond their reach and could
not be funded on a commercial basis.
110. Mr Graham Smith, Planning Director of English,
Welsh and Scottish Railway, told our predecessors:
"ports need to have an even-handed approach
to roads and rail. At the moment a road system seems to be a free
good, but the provision of a rail system involves endless arguments
about who pays, who invests and who maintains."
His view was echoed by the Freight Transport Association.
At the time, the SRA conceded "we would expect to pay the
lion's share of the costs on the main routes" for access
to ports, but it
was clear that private contribution to rail links was a matter
111. In contrast, investment in rail infrastructure
is proceeding at a faster rate in Continental Europe. Ports such
as Rotterdam and Antwerp have their rail facilities provided,
maintained and operated by the national rail companies. Further,
the provision of rail facilities at ports is funded entirely at
national government level. This must increase such ports' competitiveness
with the UK.
112. The Government's view is that it is premature
to start improving railway lines before the Department for Transport
has approved the projects. Even if Dibden Bay were to obtain approval
now, the Department for Transport claim that there is no immediate
necessity for improvement of the gauge since the port will not
be fully operational for some considerable time.
The Government should appreciate that rail enhancements take
time to programme and deliver. As soon as any planning consent
for a major port development has been given, steps should be taken
to ensure that the infrastructure it requires will be in place
as soon as it is needed. Where physical rail links exist, the
Government should examine the potential for developing and increasing
their use as part of an integrated transport policy.
113. Clearly intermodal links are vital in maintaining
the competitiveness of UK ports and contributing to the UK economy.
Government strategy and policy should strongly reflect the importance
of investment in this area. "Integrated transport policy
recognises that Government cannot treat any element of the transport
network in isolation."
The failure of the SRA to deliver its promises for better port
access is threatening the competitiveness of UK ports. It is imperative
that rail infrastructure and gauge enhancements are made in order
to ensure direct call by the international shipping lines.
60 POR 13D Back
POR 19, see also POR 23 Back
POR 13D Back
See also Q 429, 3July 2002 Back
Q 476, 18 June 2003 Back
POR 05A Back
Modern Ports: A UK Policy, para 2.1.4. Back
Modern Ports: A UK Policy, para 2.4.9. Back
HC(2000-01)244i-iv, p. 106 Back
Modern Ports: A UK Policy, para 2.4.10. Back
Ibid, para 2.4.16. Back
Ibid, para 2.4.6. Back
Ibid, para 2.4.7. Back
Ibid, para 2.4.10. Back
Modern Ports: A UK Policy, para 2.4.11. Back
Q 478, 18 June 2003 Back
HC (2000-01) 244 i-iv, p. 244 Back
POR 18A Back
Delivering Better Transport Progress Report, December 2002,
p. 104. Back
HC Deb, 20 Jul 2001, c 523 w. Back
HC (2000-01) 244 i-iv, p. 87, p. 207, p. 213 Back
Modern Ports: A UK Policy, para 1.1.12. Back
Ibid, para 2.2.2. Back
HC (2000-01) 244 i-iv, p. 230 Back
ibid, p. 188 Back
Graham Smith, Planning Director of EWS, the UK's largest freight
train operator, Lloyds List 16 June 2003. Back
HC (2000-01) 244 i-iv. p. 216 Back
Delivering Better Transport: Progress Report, para 6.5. Back
Q 191, 3 July 2002 Back
HC (2000-01) 244 i-iv, p. 230 Back
POR 05 Back
Qq 242-248, 3 July 2002 Back
Q 143, see also Q 183, 24 April 2002 Back
Q 237-8, 3 July 2002 Back
Q 249, 3 July 2002 Back
Qq 244-248, 3 July 2002 Back
POR 3 Back
See Q 511, 18 June 2003, but see also HC (2000-01) 244 i-iv, p.
Modern Ports: A UK Policy, para 2.2.2. Back