Freight and HS2’s built-in obsolescence

The Beleben blog recently looked at Network Rail’s draft Freight Network Study consultation document. This was published in August (deadline for reponses November) and developed in collaboration with a range of stakeholders with an interest in rail and freight.

Beleben points out:

The study noted that as the “proposed new HS2 line from London to the North is not expected to provide for rail freight services”, the freight industry has an ‘aspiration’ to ‘enable new rail freight market flows by enhancing a selected number of (classic) routes to European gauge standards, specifically UIC GB1+ gauge’.

He says later:

On the other hand, if an all-new railway from London to the north were being planned, it would be perfectly feasible to design-in dual passenger and freight capability, with an ‘outsize’ loading gauge (capable of carrying lorries on flatbed wagons, for example).

But HS2, a planned all-new railway from London to the north, has not been designed for potential railfreight use. Its gradients would make cost-effective goods movement a highly unlikely proposition, and its structure gauge is too small for an efficient ‘rolling motorway’.

Network Rail says the stakeholders involved in the preparation of the study include the UK governments,  the freight operating companies, the Rail Freight Group, the Rail Delivery Group, and the Office of Rail and Road.

Interestingly, Tony Berkeley,  the former Chair of the Rail Freight Group and vice president of the European Rail Freight Association, gave evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee yesterday.

158. It started off, of course, by assuming that all construction material, except some track material, had to be moved in by road …  I believe that the HS2 has started from the wrong end.  It should have said ‘How much can we carry by rail without seriously affecting costs and programmes and other trains?’  I think that’s a fundamental issue.

159.  My Lords, moving spoil and other materials by rail for a construction project is actually a very specialist expertise.  And I think the one thing that’s gone wrong so far with this project is that the people who are experts, which are the rail freight operators, or people within the rail freight operators, have not been able to express their opinion, because they’re constrained because they’re going to be tendering as sub‑contractors to the main contractors, and so they obviously can’t give their views on whether that’s a good way or this is a good way, because it’s putting themselves in an anti‑competitive situation.  I’ve talked to many of them privately, and I hope that what I’m going to say reflects the best things that they hopefully will come up with.  But they have a can-do mentality, but it’s still quite a challenge for, I think, the promoter to come up with certain ideas without having the benefit of the detailed knowledge that some of these people have.

He went onto list other recent projects that had successfully used rail to transfer spoil – Heathrow Terminal 5, the London Olympics, Crossrail, and Birmingham New Street station.

But typical of HS2 Ltd arrogance, not only have they not considered the needs of freight transport into the future, they have not properly considered rail freight for building HS2.

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