UK needs terminal policy to stimulate growth

The growing demand for rail freight terminals needs to be adequately addressed by local authority planning in the UK. No change will lead to delays in provision of up to date facilities, says Railfuture, a nationwide federation of lobby groups, in their latest policy statement.

In their policy document for 2020, Railfuture has urged Britain’s local authorities to give freight terminal development high priority. Local authorities, also known as councils, handle almost all planning applications and enforce planning regulations. Railfuture want them to recognise the importance of rail terminals in the planning framework, as part of the economic well being of their communities.

Centre of cities

Speaking to RailFreight.com, Peter Wakefield, the head of the freight group at Railfuture, endorsed the policy. “A network of freight terminals is needed to meet customer needs”, reads the document. “This should include rail-linked warehousing, improved rail facilities at ports, and construction materials sites in central parts of cities”.

Historically, rail did play a vital part of city commercial life. Most goods were delivered to city centre rail facilities, but the demise of the mixed goods train coincided with the removal and subsequent redevelopment of the traditional goods yards all over Britain.

Sustainable development

Railfuture makes a case for a modern network, and their policy document tackles the issues from the environmental angle, which is also playing an increasing part in the planning process, particularly in British urban centres. “There is also a need to promote patterns of goods distribution that are compatible with wider goals of sustainable development”, says the document, citing rail-served consolidation centres in urban areas as an example of what can be done to a greater extent in future.

Paskov intermodal terminal in Czechia, source: Advanced World Transport (AWT)
Efficient terminal handling is making rail more competitive and stimulating growth all over Europe, such as here in Paskov, Czechia

Yet that call comes hot on the heels of concerns over the Coatbridge terminal in central Scotland, which was a flagship for the devolved Scottish government and their own development support package. More freight by rail would be the answer, argues Railfuture, but that may take some time to materialise, and will that be soon enough for Coatbridge (more details here).

Coatbridge is among the new generation of terminals, that answer the checklist put forward by Railfuture. “Changes to the town planning process are needed so that new industrial and warehousing developments are located where rail access can be provided”, argues Railfuture, suggesting that existing barriers to the development of new rail freight interchanges are removed. “There needs to be a coherent approach to protecting industrial land, rail sites and existing terminals”.

Urban bottlenecks

Going on to address specific urban bottlenecks which need to be addressed, Railfuture points to areas such as London and Greater Manchester as priorities for better access, particularly for intermodal and construction traffic. “Re-signalling schemes, the provision of loops and extra running lines to accommodate freight should also be progressed where appropriate across the network”, they say.

Planning success. London Thames Port terminal was approved on former industrial land by the local authority

However, recommendations for a return to the era of the dedicated goods lines, alongside passenger tracks, may be difficult to achieve. Many large conurbations, like Manchester and London, have utilised former corridors to relieve road congestion or for building. To achieve the aims of Peter Wakefield’s freight group at Railfuture, and put terminals back in the heart of British cities may well take a futuristic planning solution in itself.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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