THE unveiling of a plaque at Nuneaton this month was big news for us here in the Haven Gateway. The ceremony was to mark the completion of the Nuneaton North Chord, a rail flyover which links the cross-country rail route from the Port of Felixstowe to Nuneaton with the West Coast Main Line.

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It’s an important 1.4km stretch of line, allowing freight trains to travel through Nuneaton without affecting passenger services and creating the capacity to carry up to 12 freight trains per day in each direction through the area. Over a year, that’s equivalent to taking about 275,000 trucks off the road.

But as Network Rail points out, there’s a bigger picture here. The Nuneaton North Chord is part of its strategic freight network and its programme of investment to improve freight capacity across Britain’s railways.

It also means that the increasingly preferred 9 ft 6 in “high cube” containers can now be carried across the whole length of the route instead of having to be moved via the congested North London line.

All of this adds up to another link in the supply chain offering from the Port of Felixstowe.

Felixstowe is the UK’s largest container port by far but if its rail terminals were a port in their own right, the throughput they handle would make them the third largest container terminal in the UK!

The equivalent of over 750,000 teu (standard 20-ft boxes) are carried to and from the port by scheduled freight trains every year, and that figure is set to increase dramatically with Hutchison Ports UK investing in a third rail terminal at the port. Due to be fully operational by the middle of next year, it will increase Felixstowe’s annual container-to-rail capacity to 1.5m teu, delivering a huge reduction in trucks on the road and carbon emissions.

Rail freight generates 76% less carbon dioxide than road freight per tonne carried, and the ability to carry high-cube boxes is also significantly green as they carry more items than standard containers, making them a more efficient way of distributing goods.

All around us we hear of major retail chains and importers searching for greener supply chains. Felixstowe, with its ability to handle the world’s largest containerships, and with its unbeatable rail offering, certainly fits the bill.

: : David Ralph is chief executive of the Haven Gateway Partnership.

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