Network Rail under pressure over Radlett rail freight hub

MPs are putting pressure on Network Rail to explain how rail freight and commuter trains can work together should a major rail freight interchange is built in Park Street, Herts.

Ann Main, MP for St Albans has been highly critical of Network Rail over what she sees as its failure to explain how it will overcome timetabling concerns to do with rail freight using passenger routes to get onto the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) that is set to be built at the former Radlett Airfield.

Main also questioned the current demand for rail freight after the analysis by the Office of Rail and Road’s national quarterly statistics. These show the rail freight industry is in decline.

In a letter to Mark Carne, Network Rail chief executive, she says: “Assurances must be made to avoid the SRFI becoming a mere lorry park.”

In the same letter she pointed out that in the 10 years since the proposals for an SRFI in Park Street were first made, passenger services on the same routes that will be used by freight traffic have increased while rail freight has declined.

She questioned how Network Rail will overcome the conflict between the timetabling of passenger trains, which anticipates demand, and the timetabling of rail freight which responds to demand.

Additionally, Main also asked how NR plans to guarantee that rail freight services will not require access to passenger routes at peak times.

Pointing out that increased rail freight activity on the Midland Main Line is integral to the success of the SRFI, she said that it is “substantially less desirable to rail freight services” than East or West Coast Main Lines, both of which have a gauge of 10.

The MML has a gauge of eight between London and the SRFI site which limits the size of container that can be handled.

On the issue of demand for rail freight, Main asked if NR has reassessed its national strategy recently in light of the reduction in the volume of commodities moved by rail.

And because an earlier inspector’s report into the SRFI suggested that rail would not be commercially effective against road movements from such deep sea ports as Felixstowe and Southampton, she asked Mr Carne if Network Rail share her concerns that the SRFI will be uneconomical given its location.

Calling on Network Rail to provide “swift and detailed answers” to her questions, she said the issues are of fundamental importance to ensuring that rail freight does not disrupt her constituents’ daily travel to work and that the SRFI will be viable into the future.

 
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