Monday, April 25, 2016

Devolution of UK Rail Routes Welcomed by Freight Stakeholders

Annual RFG Conference Discusses the Way Forward
Shipping News Feature
UK – Last month we published full details of the report on the state of Network Rail by the CEO of HS1, Nicola Shaw, and it was much discussed at the Rail Freight Group’s 24th annual conference organised by Waterfront in London recently. The requirement to focus on freight was reinforced by Joanna Whittington, Chief Executive at the Office of Road and Rail (ORR), who said the reorganisation of Network Rail into routes can provide a real opportunity for Network Rail to improve the way it can meet the needs of both freight and passengers.

Paul McMahon, Director Freight, Network Rail, told the audience that his organisation was keen to move more responsibility to the route managing directors to collaborate with stakeholders and customers locally. But these individuals must also understand that not everything can be devolved to the routes and ‘some can and must remain centrally controlled and freight falls into that category’.

McMahon said he and his team are very keen to bolster the role and status of freight within Network Rail. He also wants to talk to potential investors and the freight industry about the possibility of private finance co-investing in schemes despite there being no existing template for such discussions.

Nicola Shaw reiterated she was looking for the ‘Virtual Freight Route’ to be established as per the report and that, as the network was divided into eight regional routes, freight must have a strong voice at the table. This was supported by Lilian Greenwood MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport who said the Rail Freight Group plays a vital role in securing cross-party support on a number of issues making sure politicians knew the value of rail freight to the economy, but she added, that work still needed to be done to make sure that freight is not seen as a second class citizen on the rail network.

Clemence Chang, Chief Executive of Hutchinson Port, said the industry needed the dedicated Network Rail freight team to be allowed to continue in a stable environment. He pointed out that the arrival of ever larger container ships at Felixstowe created landside challenges to move containers more quickly into and out of the port, agreeing that Rail, which can move a large number of containers at once, is well-placed to serve this need, but there needed to be upgrades to the Network Rail infrastructure to eliminate bottlenecks.

Joanne Turner, Commercial Director of Freightliner, celebrated the growth of intermodal traffic on the railways since privatisation but stressed that it could be difficult for rail to compete with road on both rates and service when, for instance, fuel duty for road vehicles had remained stable for years while track access charges were both rising and unpredictable and Maggie Simpson, RFG Executive Director, concluded with:

“It was great to have the opportunity at the conference to debate the future of rail freight with so many people in the sector. The clear conclusion was that rail network devolution could be transformational for freight but it will work only if we have a strong central team co-ordinating national interests.”