Freight News, Rail

HS2 means more freight trains to take the strain – updated

[ February 11, 2020   //   ]

The freight industry has broadly welcomed the government’s go-head for HS2, the UK’s first ever domestic high-speed rail line that will run from London to the Midlands and North of England.

Rail Freight Group (RFG) said the new line could, as well as speeding passengers at up to 200mph, could also  deliver significant benefits for rail freight by releasing capacity for new services on the existing network and allowing new services to operate. However, the Government has not yet onfirmed how much capacity will be made available for freight once the new line is open.

RFG director-general Maggie Simpson said: “Now that the uncertainty is over, Government and HS2 must act to confirm and safeguard released capacity for freight use and to resolve bottlenecks elsewhere on the network where HS2 trains will operate.  This is essential to allow freight operators and customers to develop their future plans, and to ensure that the benefits of HS2 can now be delivered in practice.”

Train operator GB Railfreight meanwhile stands to become one of the first companies to benefit from the massive engineering project – it has been preparing to support construction logistics, including removing spoil and waste, and delivering inbound materials to the scheme, which could get underway in as little as a few weeks.

Managing director John Smith, Managing Director of GB Railfreight, who submitted a response to the Oakervee Review, said HS2 “will free up extra capacity on the West Coast Mainline which will help the growth of rail freight, supporting economic growth across the UK and helping the delivery of the Government’s targets to decarbonise the economy by supporting the shift of freight from road to more sustainable rail services.”

And head of consumer services at parcels broker ParcelHero’s, David Jinks said that the new line could even pave the way for the large-scale return of mail trains to the network.

With HS2 clearing path for more freight services on the West Coast route, there could be more capacity to run postal expresses, he suggested, explaining: “Not long ago much of our mail was transported by rail services. Our post and parcels were sorted on the move on Travelling Post Office (TPO) trains. As recently as 2003 there were 49 mail trains a day still running, carrying 20 million packages and letters a day. But the last TPO train steamed into the sunset back in 2004, ending a 166-year history. Today only 15 small mail trains (Class 325 multiple units) still run, operated by the German-owned DB Cargo for Royal Mail.”

The Chartered Institute for Logistics and Transport (CILT) called on the government should formally safeguard a significant proportion of the released capacity on existing routes for rail freight growth, as part of its commitment to modal shift and the achievement of Net Zero by 2050. It said that Britain’s manufacturers, retailers and ports are keen to move more of their goods by rail and that this will accelerate as the implications of achieving Net Zero carbon by 2050 become clearer.

The CILT believes that electric trains carrying goods on the trunk haul, linking with electric-lorries for final delivery to customers in towns and cities, offers an attractive option for near-full decarbonisation of the supply chain.

Well ahead of 2050, more capacity for freight is needed on north-south main lines as well as on east-west routes and particularly Trans Pennine.