Wednesday, 22 November 2017

NIC knacks Railfreight

Oh dear! 

What are we to make of this, from the increasingly excitable twitter feed of Admiral Scrumptious?

Or indeed this, from the National Infrastructure Commission consultation on a National Infrastructure Assessment (p82-83), chaired by Lord Adonis:

Long-distance freight

Businesses need to be able to move goods between ports, airports, production and distribution sites, and to their customers as efficiently as possible...

An argument for shifting freight from road to rail is often made on grounds of congestion and environmental benefits. Rail freight will always have its place, and some enhancements may be cost-effective, but the Commission believes the pilots of “platooning” truck convoys on motorways and major A roads may open the way to radical improvements in the efficiency and capacity of major freight distribution by road in the future (see Chapter 5). This would free up rail capacity for enhanced commuter and inter-city passenger services. The Commission will report further on this in the future.

Rail freight is already increasingly limited by network capacity as passenger demand increases. The issues with mixed traffic on the network are well documented – freight trains travelling at 70mph on the same track as passenger trains travelling at 125mph results in a significant capacity constraint. 
Whilst freight can travel at night in some areas, this competes with maintenance work, which also needs access to the track at night.

Reducing road freight by only one-third would require more than a three-fold increase in rail freight capacity, which simply could not be accommodated on today’s already busy railway. The Commission believes that upgrades needed for this sort of shift would be prohibitively expensive, whilst the benefits would be questionable, particularly if truck platooning is successful, given the industry’s clear preference for road transport in most cases.


Platooned lorries (an untried technology) makes more sense than, for instance, running aggregate trains - one train of which typically carries the equivalent of 60 lorries, from quarries where for environmental reasons the use of railfreight is mandated? Not particularly bright when a massive expansion in house building is a key plank of government policy.

And that's before we even start on the centrality of railfreight operations to ports and the wider logistics network.

Most disappointing.

Doubly so, as one of the NIC Commissioners is Bridget Rosewell who also happens to be a non-Executive director of Network Rail.

No doubt Bridget was vigorous in her defence of the rights of Network Rail freight customers when this section of the report came to be written?

Meanwhile, Eye understands that a stiff letter has gone to Lord Adonis, signed by freight customers and operators, objecting in the strongest possible terms to the coverage of railfreight in the NICs report.

Not least because the tone of the NIC's consultation has already created concern amongst those looking to invest now in new or expanded railfreight facilities.

Bizarre that a body charged with developing infrastructure should be acting in such a way as to make it more difficult for the private sector to do so.

UPDATE: It would appear that a signalling problem delayed Admiral Scrumptious, rather than a freight train…

No doubt Adonis will be quick to set the record straight?