Rail freight line in UK

Freight operators give up 4,000 weekly UK slots

Image: Network Rail

UK rail freight operators are relinquishing more than 4,000 ‘slots’ a week to free up network capacity after a review by Network Rail revealed more than half of the reserved freight paths were not being used. Around 1,000 however will still be retained for the possibility of future freight use.

Network Rail, the UK’s rail infrastructure manager, says this huge shake-up of the rail timetable is partly down to an ‘unprecedented’ decline in coal traffic and dips in iron and steel demand.

But it also attributes the findings to more efficient freight operations, including longer, fuller and heavier trains. It says more ‘savvy’ – or smart – timetabling and better freight industry productivity, with fewer part-loaded trains and therefore less wasted capacity is also driving the changes. It follows an industry-wide review over the past two years into more efficient freight operations.


Paul McMahon, Managing Director for Freight and National Passenger Operators at Network Rail, 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.”

Key paths

Russell Mears, Chief Executive of Freightliner and Chair of the Rail Delivery Group’s Freight Unit, added: “The freight operators and Network Rail have worked together in an effective and pragmatic way for the wider industry good. While retaining some key paths as strategic capacity to support future freight growth, the release of other residual paths is essential in helping the government get the best value for money from our capacity-constrained railway.”

Network Rail said the additional capacity had been created at ‘zero cost’ and would not lead to any actual reductions in the number of freight trains on the network. The new arrangements represented a ‘huge opportunity’ for both freight and passenger operators to increase traffic without the need for expensive infrastructure improvement schemes.


“Construction and intermodal freight traffic is growing on the rail network and additional paths are needed in order to support the economy across Britain,” added Network Rail. “(A total of) 1,000 of the removed paths have been safeguarded for future strategic freight growth, which is essential to allow for expected increases in future freight markets. The rail market can have the confidence that future traffic growth can take place without being hindered by the need to always build additional capacity.”

The review revealed a total of 4,072 freight paths every week were not being used by operators, and of these 3,684 have been removed from the timetable, leaving 1,018 of ‘strategic value’ and suitable for further development by Network Rail. Many coal paths in the north east and west coasts of England, along with Scotland and Wales, have been removed.


Examples of efficient operations included the transportation of steel between Scunthorpe, home of British Steel, and Dollands Moor, a freight yard near the Channel Tunnel. Freight loads saw a weight increase of 200 tonnes, or up 11.9 per cent, from 1,600 to 1,800, while the length of trains also increased. The so-called ‘Water Train’ from Dollands Moor to Wembley, north London, switched from using a Class 66 to a Class 92 electric traction, enabling a 200-tonne increase in weight from 1,600 to 1,800, also up 11.9 per cent.

Author: Simon Weedy

Simon is a journalist for RailFreight.com - a dedicated online platform for all the news about the rail freight sector

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