Tuesday, April 4, 2017

UK Rail Freight Timetable Adjustment Frees up Thousands of New Slots

Analysis of Usage Allows for More Efficiency to Passenger and Freight Services
Shipping News Feature
UK – A massive timetable shakeup is being implemented after Britain’s rail freight industry collaborated over a two-year, industry-wide review into more efficient freight operations. Together, Network Rail and freight operators identified 50% of the reserved slots on the railway for freight trains were not being used and could potentially be given up for thousands of new passenger and freight services.

Freight trains deliver goods all over the country, taking 7.6 million lorry journeys off the road each year. Passenger numbers have doubled in the last 20 years and demand is accelerating at levels last seen more than 100 years ago. Rail freight is also booming, showing a 70% increase since the mid-1990s. But because of this growth in demand, large parts of the network are full and we are facing delays and congestion.

Per week, 4,702 allocated ‘paths’ – the slots a freight train has on the railway and in the timetable – have been relinquished, freeing-up much needed capacity on the rail network. Of these 4,702 paths, 3,684 have been completely removed from the timetable with the remaining 1,018 been deemed to have strategic value and will be developed further by Network Rail. The freed-up spaces could become available for all train operators to run additional services on a daily basis or re-time existing services to reduce congestion and improve reliability.

This additional capacity has been created at zero cost and has not led to any reductions in the number of freight trains running on the network. It represents a huge opportunity for both freight and passenger operators to increase traffic on the network without the need for expensive infrastructure enhancement schemes. The spare capacity can be attributed to a number of factors:

  • The unprecedented decline in coal traffic over the last two years, and a dip in iron and steel;
  • More efficient freight operations including running longer, fuller, heavier trains;
  • Savvy timetabling and better freight industry productivity, running fewer, part-loaded freight trains, reducing wasted capacity.
Meanwhile, construction and intermodal freight traffic is growing on the rail network and additional paths are needed in order to support the economy across Britain. 1,000 of the removed paths have been safeguarded for future strategic freight growth, which is essential to allow for expected increases in key freight markets. According to Network Rail, the rail freight market can have the confidence that future traffic growth can take place without being hindered by the need to always build additional capacity. Paul McMahon, Network Rail’s Managing Director for Freight and National Passenger Operators said:  
“It is important the whole rail industry works together to make best use of existing capacity, to minimise the need for additional expensive capacity enhancement schemes. This is a real win-win and has truly been a collaborative piece of work with the freight operators. Capacity has been freed up for the whole railway but essential capacity is reserved for freight operators. This is important given the need to support the growth of freight on the network to support the economy.”