Tuesday, January 15, 2019

UK Port Group Lash Out at Reported Lack of Intermodal Freight Investment

Trans-Pennine Rail Route Does not Support Northern Powerhouse
Shipping News Feature
UK – The government's reported decision to upgrade the 76-mile Trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester at a cost of £2.9 billion which was referred to in the Guardian last month, has come under increasing fire from freight interests as there now appears to be no provision to carry any intermodal or bulk cargo whatsoever. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, already a controversial figure over matters such as the invisible Ramsgate to Ostend ferry link, has been shielded somewhat for this statement so far with Brexit taking all the headlines.

The scheme has been under fire at every step, there was talk of abandoning it completely, then the revelation it would possibly not be electrified for its full length, followed by the news that the new tunnels required would not be large enough to transport freight trains.

The fact is however that if the scheme proceeds without any intermodal elements it will not only go against previous assurances, but have a severe impact on some businesses in the region with plans for growth and modernisation. Government policy on both the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and the vow to reduce air borne pollution will be seen as a sham, and local logistics interests will be unable to develop those expected post Brexit growth areas as anticipated.

One of the most affected should the scheme be a passenger only service will be Teesport, operated by PD Ports which has invested heavily, doubtless based partially on such government proposals and assurances. The company points out that the demand for freight in the region is clear and measurable. Teesport experienced more growth in volume than any other UK port in 2017 with a number of record-breaking results at its container terminal facilities, handling more than half a million TEUs (twenty foot equivalent unit) a year.

In November 2014, a £3 million+ intermodal rail terminal opened at the port, initially designed to service existing container business which has delivered consistent growth in volumes of some 12% year-on-year for the last seven years. This growth was a catalyst in PD Ports’ decision to build the rail terminal, which continues to see a significant modal shift amongst customers with rail volumes surpassing 40,000 units annually with an anticipated 50% uplift by 2029.

There is a significant demand from Teesport’s customers to be able to move freight east to west through this Northern corridor allowing shorter distances to be covered by rail. Without a viable alternative route for rail freight with the necessary capacity and gauge, the growth the company is experiencing it says will be limited, and indeed at risk of reducing, due to transport restrictions.

PD Ports, which also operates the short sea ports of Groveport, Howden and Keadby, sees the Trans-Pennine route as a key element in its own development, and capacity provisions need to take into consideration the growing demand for freight movements, which allow major northern links to become viable. It claims to have consistently delivered on the commitment to support the future growth of international trade in the North of England and contributed to the delivery of the government’s own targets to get more freight moving by rail.

Everyone in the industry is aware of the threat of road transport services being under pressure as the ongoing lack of HGV drivers impedes supply chains in the UK, just this week a survey showed more foreign born drivers working throughout Britain were choosing to return home or be based elsewhere in the EU. PD Ports opine that failing to invest in additional rail freight capacity on the Trans-Pennine route, could seriously damage the economic aims of the Northern Powerhouse and would leave an over reliance on the heavily congested M62.