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Anthony Gueterbock (Lord Berkeley) on HS2

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Network Rail 2004-2005 gauge clearance map, indicative only, HS1 not shownThe Rail Freight Group (RFG) is a company that was formed in 1991 to represent the views of “those involved with the rail freight industry that were not British Rail”, and its 100+ members include customers, logistics providers, suppliers, terminal operators, ports, and freight rail operators. Its aim is to “promote cost effective rail solutions for freight, and serve the interests of members by improving the political, legal and planning environment in which the rail freight industry operates”.

RFG’s Chairman, called ‘Tony Berkeley’ on its website, is the Labour peer Lord Berkeley, but one translation of his actual surname (Gueterbock) would be ‘goods do not move’. Which is fitting, given his somewhat oddball views about HS2 and rail freight, outlined in a September open letter to Philip Hammond (transport secretary at the time):

Rt. Hon Philip Hammond MP,
Secretary of State for Transport
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street
28th September 2011

Dear Secretary of State,

Open Letter: rail freight needs HS2 as much as passengers!

As the debate about HS2 hots up and more people who happen to live beside the proposed route express doubts about the value for money of the project, it is time to clarify why a new North – South rail line is needed.

For freight, the reasons are clear – more capacity is needed to move containers, particularly on the North-South axis. Here, container traffic has grown by 56% in the last 8 years, and customers, particularly in the retail sector, are pressing the rail freight industry to take more of their goods by rail, for reliability, price and low carbon reasons.

The West Coast Main Line corridor is vital because it links the major conurbations where people live – and consume – and on which freight needs to run. One cannot pick alternative routes. As the main trunk route, the WCML already carries 50 to 75 freight trains a day on its southern part.

Some of these will transfer to the Felixstowe – Peterborough – Nuneaton route if upgraded, but we forecast that, by 2030, with traffic from the London Gateway and other developments added, freight will need six paths an hour in each direction on the WCML just to keep up with demand.

And if freight does not go by rail, it will go by road, adding some 200 trucks an hour shared between the M40, the M1 and parallel ‘A’ roads, and adding 500,000 tonnes per year to our transport related output of CO2. I suggest that the same comments apply to passenger demand as well.

If the longer distance WCML passenger services were transferred to the high speed line, capacity on the former would be released for freight. The four track WCML from London to Crewe is easily able take six freight trains per hour in each direction, and also a reasonable number of regional passenger services to cater for the increased demand between Birmingham, Crewe and London.

Ministers must of course resist the temptation to offer non-stop tilting trains every five minutes from Milton Keynes to London as ‘compensation’ for the construction of the high speed line. Faster and more frequent passenger trains will be possible, but one of the related benefits, outlined in the SE Route Utilisation Study, is to build a connection between the WCML and Crossrail near Old Oak Common in West London so that the good burghers of Milton Keynes will be able to access central London without changing trains at Euston. That is the way to improve overall journey times and passenger comfort.

The French TGV line from Paris to Lyon is now signalled for a train every two minutes, and HS2 could do the same. Of course, it would take many years to reach such intense levels of traffic, but it opens up the possibility of through passenger trains from Aberystwyth, Holyhead, Blackpool, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, York and Newcastle (to name a few major destinations) all with trains using the HS2. Equally important is the need for a proper rail connection between HS1 and HS2 without using the very congested and small gauge North London Line. Such a link would enable through trains from northern cities to Paris and Brussels, as well as higher speed parcels and other freight trains.

Thus, on a project where even the first section is only due to open in 15 years time, one cannot expect HS2 to be prescriptive about train and passenger numbers now but, built properly to accommodate such frequent services, then its role in freeing up capacity on the existing line is assured.

So we urge you to stand firm against those who are seeking to prevent HS2 happening; the country needs it, and freight needs a significant part of the capacity freed up to meet the demands of its customers for a more carbon friendly form of transport, and keep all those lorries off the road!

Yours, Tony

Contrary to the impression given by Mr Gueterbock, there is no evidence that HS2 would transform rail freight capability. As can be seen from the diagram in Network Rail’s Freight Route Utilisation Strategy, there are potentially numerous ways of routeing freight to and from major conurbations, but rail cargo is held back by the majority of routes not being cleared for containers. Currently, there is no possibility of rail assuming a significantly larger role in goods transport at the national level. The connecting lines required for that purpose disappeared fifty years ago, along with most local freight handling facilities.

Forecasting future freight movements is just as difficult as forecasting future passenger demand. Who would have expected that, upon its completion, hardly any rail freight would be moved through the Channel tunnel? Who, in the year 2003, would have correctly estimated (at zero) the number of automobiles rail-transported from MG Rover Longbridge in 2006?

While Network Rail is upbeat about future demand for rail cargo, according to the Freight on Rail group, it would be seriously affected if the government permitted longer heavy goods vehicle semi-trailers. The Department of Transport freight model hasn’t proved adequate for planning purposes, and the DfT commissioned the Network Analysis of Freight Traffic to try to enable better intelligence on freight transport. If large-scale transfer of freight from road to rail is a policy objective, there needs to be co-ordinated investment enabling that switch to take place.

Written by beleben

November 10, 2011 at 8:39 pm

One Response

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  1. […] Those service patterns also seem to be incompatible with the views of HS2 chief engineer Andrew McNaughton, and Anthony Gueterbock. […]

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