Cross-country rail freight boost

AN £80million rail freight services upgrade between the East of England and the Midlands has been welcomed by industry bosses.

AN £80million rail freight services upgrade between the East of England and the Midlands has been welcomed by industry bosses.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced £132million worth of funding grants to support rail freight, including an £80million grant to enhance gauge and capacity on the Peterborough to Nuneaton route.

This will enable the route to carry 9ft 6in high cube containers, which otherwise need specialist rail wagons or have to be carried by road, and provides an alternative route from the Port of Felixstowe which bypasses London.

The scheme will also receive £5million from Network Rail and £1million from the East of England Development Agency.

The Port of Felixstowe and logistics company Freightliner Group, which specialises in rail transport, welcomed the upgrade, which is seen as crucial in providing an alternative to the busy rail routes via London, and helping improve services from the busy Port of Felixstowe.

Lindsay Durham, head of rail strategy at Freightliner, said that in addition to the recently announced £200million worth of funding to start a strategic freight network, it would make a “step difference” in the ability of rail freight operators to move 9ft 6ins containers on standards wagons from the major deep sea ports.

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Rail journeys also had a much lower carbon footprint than road movements and could help to relieve road congestion, she pointed out.

“In light of the recent Crossrail announcement, this decision demonstrates joined up thinking with the recent Eddington report, and is a step closer to establishing a nationwide rail network capable of carrying 9ft 6ins containers.

Paul Davey, head of corporate affairs at the Port of Felixstowe warmly welcomed the investment in the section of the Felixstowe to Nuneaton route.

“We have already committed significant expenditure ourselves for improvements in this route, but it's important to realise that further investment will be needed in future, particularly if the development of Crossrail, and the London Mayor's ambitions for passengers force freight traffic away from London.

“As a first stage of investment in the route, we very warmly welcome the announcement by Government.”

In addition to the £80million upgrade between Peterborough and Nuneaton, almost £43million will be used to enhance the gauge on the key Southampton to Nuneaton corridor, which links the port with Birmingham, the north west and Scotland through the West Coast Main Line.

A further £8million of funding will go towards increasing capacity on the link between the Humber Ports and the East Coast Main Line, and £1.7million will improve access between the West Coast Main Line and Liverpool Docks.

Transport Minister Tom Harris said the improved infrastructure would make a “significant contribution” to reducing road congestion, carbon and environmental emissions, as well as supporting the future growth of the economy.

“This funding is on top of the £65million the DfT announced earlier this year to support freight through upgrading infrastructure and securing greener ways of moving the nation's goods,” he said. “Together, these awards underline the department's commitment to improving the rail freight network in this country.”

Construction on all the schemes is due to start in early 2008 and be completed by 2011.