Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Rail Freight Ups and Downs as Infrastructure Works Send Cargo Back to Road Haulage

Meanwhile Specialist Containers Hit the Tracks and Scottish Policy 'Encouraging'
Shipping News Feature
EUROPE – UK – In rail freight news there is concern that users of rail may be in for a summer and autumn of discontent with a vast amount of infrastructure projects across the continent leading to cargo returning to road haulage. Meanwhile in the UK, Network Rail has placed a second order with CakeBoxx Technologies, manufacturers of the innovative container design we have often featured on these pages.

The European Rail Freight Association (ERFA), a body avowed to arrive at a single European wide and competitive rail cargo network, is warning that the impact of a series of infrastructure works during the summer period in Germany, but also on neighbouring networks, most notably in Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands, could bring the network to a complete stop.

ERFA says there were at least twenty two construction sites in operation during July on the key Central Europe North- South corridor linking the north of Italy with Germany, the Netherlands and far beyond. It claims that the ensuing delays impact heavily on products including key items such as washing powder, pet food, as well as key industrial goods, tyres, plastic granulates for automotive industry, all of which use the network in bulk quantities, are being affected as well as other stakeholders such as parcel services.

The lobby group claims that disruption to rail services has a devastating impact on the viability of smaller railway undertakings, risking future of competition in the sector. These disruptions mean increasing costs with no possibility of compensation, something smaller companies cannot cope with unlike their larger, often state run, competitors. It is of course these very state run operations which sanction the ongoing works.

Whilst the ERFA acknowledges that line closures and line restrictions are necessary to undertake essential infrastructure development and maintenance, they must be organised in such a way as to limit the negative impact on end customers and ensure viable solutions for existing business. The ERFA points out that firm commitments were made in June last year in Rotterdam both by EU Transport Ministers and the rail sector to urgently improve the coordination of infrastructure works on the rail freight corridors yet more than a year on nothing whatsoever has happened in this regard.

Many major projects are currently underway or on the drawing board, some of which may affect the carriage of freight. In the UK there is Crossrail and the proposed, and very controversial, HS2 scheme, whilst in France a range of schemes are underway, all under the auspices of SNCF.

The Brittany-Loire high-speed line project is an extension of the LGV Atlantic Paris-Le Mans, which was commissioned in 1989 in the direction of Rennes and Nantes. This ine is intended to contribute to the development of the West of France, while also improving access to other French and European regions. In 2017, 182 kilometres of the new line will link Conneré (to the east of Le Mans) in the Sarthe department to Rennes in the Ille-et-Vilaine. For this project, SNCF Réseau is working with Eiffage Rail Express (ERE) as part of a public-private partnership contract. ERE is responsible for the operational management of the project, including the final design, construction, maintenance and compliance with environmental regulations.

The extension of the LGV East Europe Line is part of the Magistrale for Europe (Main Line for Europe) project. In 2020 this major line, measuring 1,500 kilometres will link Paris to Bratislava and Budapest, and will go through Germany. SNCF says special attention to conservation and environmental concerns have been integrated into this scheme.

The Nîmes-Montpellier bypass project involves the creation of 80 kilometres of a new line (including 60 kilometres for high-speed travel) between Manduel (to the east of Nîmes) and Lattes (to the west of Montpellier). For this project, SNCF Réseau concluded a public-private partnership contract with a company called Oc’Via, to manage the financing, design, construction and maintenance of the line.

In Serbia, Zorana Mihajlovid, Minister of construction, transport and infrastructure has said that investments in infrastructure in 2017 total €977.7 million. These include the construction of Belgrade/Budapest railway, section of Belgrade beltway and Surčin-Obrenovac highway, projects that cost €734 million alone, the works in conjunction with Chinese companies but with the Ministry stating half the amount is going to local suppliers.

There is also to be planning and reconstruction of Corridor 10 railway, and the reconstruction of the Niš-Dimitrovgrad railway, a total worth of €175.9 million, as well as the construction works on Belgrade Centre railway station, worth €3.5 million. The China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) is contracted to reconstruct and modernise the Rasputnica G-Rakovica-Resnik section of Beograd -Mladenovac -Niš -Preševo railway for €23.78 million and this includes reconstruction and replacement of construction and electro-technical infrastructure over a total length of 7.5 kilometres.

Meanwhile in the UK CakeBoxx Technologies has delivered its second order from Britain’s Network Rail, infrastructure manager for the United Kingdom’s High Speed rail network, for 20 foot units, insulated two piece ‘deck and lid’ design containers to become part of Network Rail’s High Speed operations and maintenance continuous improvement programme.

The company recently gained approval from the Association of American Railroads (AAR) for the 53’ BreakBulkBoxx container in North American intermodal markets. The application of the two-piece CakeBoxx container in Network Rail’s maintenance infrastructure annunciates ‘the versatility and utility of unique deck and lid design’. CakeBoxx Technologies Global Sales Director Chris Clark commented:

“We are very happy to supply Network Rail with this new version of our 20’ product in support of their infrastructure programmes. They are a great group of professionals and are fantastic to work with. This particular application of our two-piece container with access doors on each end and a complete insulation package is a great example of how our containers can serve a variety of markets that rear opening traditional containers cannot.”

Meanwhile in Scotland the Rail Freight Group (RFG) welcomed strong commitment to rail freight in the Scottish Ministers’ High Level Output Specification published toward the end of July. In particular, the statement requires Network Rail Scotland to take all reasonable steps to facilitate growth of 7.5% in rail freight traffic carried on the Scotland route over control period 6. The document also sets a target to improve the average speed of freight trains by at least 10%, and to improve freight punctuality performance to 94.5% over the same timeframe.

Scottish Ministers have also confirmed the need for a comprehensive approach to the management of freight and passenger loading gauge to address existing concerns and simplify the processes for operators and end customers. RFG Scottish Representative David Spaven said:

“Our members are working hard to identify new customers and develop new services. We already work closely with Network Rail, and these new requirements will help ensure all interests are aligned in support of that growth.”