September 18 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, March 27, 2014
The new £59 million Ipswich Chord is due to be fully open for trains from next Monday – but the main freight operator running to Felixstowe will not use it for the foreseeable future.
Freightliner runs 22 trains a day in each direction to the container port – but will continue to run into Ipswich where its crews change.
Ipswich councillor Phil Smart, who campaigned for the chord for years, said the revelation could be embarrassing for the company.
The majority of those use the main line to London before heading to the midlands or north of England. However it does run some trains cross-country via Ely and Peterborough.
However even these trains will continue to turn at Ipswich, because that is where Freightliner has its crew depot.
Mr Smart accepted that the chord was only one improvement that was needed on the route – but felt freight companies should show their support for major investment like this.
He said: “I would hope that highlighting this situation would embarrass the company to look again at the way they run their trains in the area and allow them to use the chord.
“I would like to see a more can-do attitude coming from Freightliner now that the chord is open for business.”
Only six trains a day run by rival operator GB Railfreight, four heading to Felixstowe and two heading out, will be using the chord when it is fully open on Monday.
A spokesman for Freightliner said the company would eventually be using the line, but it was not possible to put a timescale on when these operations would start.
He said: “Freightliner welcomes the opening of the new Ipswich chord, which in time will prove a valued addition to network rail infrastructure for the movement of freight through the region.
“The Ipswich chord is one element of a long term strategy to develop a new freight route from Felixstowe to the West Midlands and North West. This route continues to be developed by Network Rail as demand increases.
“At present Freightliner does change its train crew at Ipswich because of the time constraints involved in rail path access.”
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, who was part of the lobbying effort that resulted in the chord being built, remained confident it would be a major boost for the rail industry.
He said: “There are other rail operators, and I am sure that if Freightliner doesn’t want to use it there will be plenty of competitors out there who will be very pleased to come in and take the business.”
He said the freight company would eventually be forced to transfer all its freight heading to the north and midlands away from the main line to London – but at the moment it was in a negotiating stage.
Suffolk county council’s transport spokesman Graham Newman said Freightliner’s decision showed the need for more investment – especially electrification – in the cross-country route.
He said: “This is an important development. But it’s only 20 miles further to go via London, and that makes it much cheaper to use that route because operators can use electric locomotives.
“Hopefully more trains will use the chord over the next few years, but it is only part of the investment that is needed. We need to press for electrification of the cross-country route to be included in Network Rail’s next long-term plan.”