Freight News, Logistics

Axe local trains to make way for freight, urges Felixstowe chief

[ March 15, 2012   //   ]

Hutchison Ports UK chief executive officer David Gledhill has called for off-peak passenger trains on the Ipswich-Felixstowe line to be axed to create more paths for freight trains. Speaking at the ground–breaking ceremony for the port’s new North Rail Terminal on 14 March, he said that with the partly single-track Felixstowe branch remaining “something of a bottleneck”, replacing the off-peak passenger train service with “a high quality express bus service” running direct to Ipswich town centre would free up capacity for more 30-wagon train services.

He said: “Rail is often portrayed as being the green travel alternative. And usually it is, but not if you are using a large diesel train to transport a very small number of people – sometimes a very small number like three of four – just a few miles. The carbon footprint per passenger for each of these journeys is huge.”

Lightly used passenger services “are keeping a 30-wagon freight train off the network. Each freight train could easily take 60 HGVs off the road,” he argued.

Upgrading the branch line to double track would be prohibitively expensive and unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future, he said.

Hutchison Ports is not proposing axing the Felixstowe branch service entirely. Morning and evening peak hour services are quite heavily used, with many passengers connecting at Ipswich with inter-city services to London, he conceded.

Gledhill concluded: “We hope that all interested parties will come together over the next few months to have a sensible debate about how we can, collectively, make the best use of this important asset.” The Anglia passenger rail passenger franchise will shortly come up for review, and this might be an opportune moment to look at the issue, he suggested.

Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony for Felixstowe’s new North Rail terminal, under-secretary of state for transport, Mike Penning, said : “We will look at it. We need to utilise the route as much as possible.” He added: “There has to be a balance between passengers and freight – and freight has often been the poor relation.” However, he pointed out that his remit covered only rail freight services; decisions on passenger services would be made by the secretary of state for transport. He added that he had also spoken with Felixstowe’s management about doubling the Felixstowe branch.

Local politicians and press suggested that the idea of replacing the train service had not gone down well. Felixstowe Mayor Doreen Savage said that the idea could damage relations between the local community and the port. A local journalist added that while some trains were lightly used, there were often sudden surges in demand – particularly in summer or when Ipswich Town were playing at home – that could seriously stretch any replacement bus service.


Tags: ,