Plans to upgrade rail links for freight trains across the North of England are to be scrapped, recent reports suggest.
The Department for Transport's internal Board Investment and Commercial Committee has recommended plans for a £3bn upgrade of the 76-mile TransPennine route between Leeds and Manchester without any provision for freight traffic, The Yorkshire Post reported.
Instead, the media outlet notes, “passive provision” will be made for freight traffic, once funds become available in the future.
Business group Northern Powerhouse Partnership said leaving freight out of TransPennine route upgrade was a mistake. “We need to be able to carry containers across the Pennines to connect the Humber ports of Immingham and Hull to the west and Liverpool. Growing our exports depends on connectivity internationally through our ports,” it added.
Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: "We would urge the Transport Secretary to think carefully as choosing not to upgrade the whole TransPennine route could be a missed opportunity to improve passenger journey times, increase rail freight capacity and tackle congestion on the M62."
Rail Freight Group (RFG), which has campaigned for freight provision on the TransPennine route for more than two years, said it was ”deeply disappointed by this decision which leaves our members in the north of England out of this key upgrade”.
Mike Hogg, North of England representative for RFG, told Freight Industry Times: “Ports have invested hundreds of millions of pounds in facilities for containers and for bulk traffic, but specifically containers in recent years, and the nation isn’t providing the links between these ports to serve those container terminals, so things will go by road, it’s that simple.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “Rail freight plays a vital role in transporting goods around our country and cutting congestion on our roads.
"The first phase of the TransPennine Route Upgrade is the biggest planned investment project in our existing railway. While the immediate focus of this phase will see improvements for passengers, we are continuing to work with Network Rail on how best to realise potential future benefits for cross Pennine freight flows.”
Government advisory group Transport for the North (TfN) had sought assurances from DfT regarding freight provision back in September. Any upgrades, it said, must have a provision for freight, with the option to transport containers by rail, which is not currently possible because the tunnels are too low.
“We continue to seek the journey time improvements, capacity, reliability and freight access that were first set out. We must push for the best solution for the north and will continue to do so.” Barry White, TfN’s Chief Executive told The Guardian.
Mr Hogg said RFG will continue to lobby government at all levels for freight provision on this vital upgrade "which has featured in virtually every report and conference that’s been held regarding transport in the North of England for the past three years".
He added: "There has always been a call for quality east-west rail route and that continues.”
Posted on: December 13th 2018