Freight turns the tide at Newhaven, England

There are new horizons opening up for Newhaven, the ferry port on England’s south coast. The fluctuating fortunes of the East Sussex terminal at the mouth of the River Ouse are on the ebb of revival, thanks to a rail freight initiative.

Freight has begun to flow from the quayside at Newhaven, but the emphasis is on rail, rather than maritime transportation. A revival of the railhead is underway, and it may ironically spell the end for Newhaven’s famous ghost station.

Tests successful

Bulk flows of aggregates, to serve the burgeoning London construction boom, may give the terminal a new lease on life, and with a plan for expansion, the infamous station with no trains may well finally, legally, close later this year, to make way for new freight facilities.

Tests have begun to prove the viability of reactivated infrastructure, and a DB Cargo ’66 has already visited with a rake of bulk wagons to perform shunting operations around a reactivated yard.

Ghosts put to rest

Newhaven Marine, a notionally open passenger station lies within the revived freight terminal, but it last saw a revenue earning train when Gnarls Barkley was going Crazy at the top of the charts in 2006.

Newhaven back in the day. The 1990s seem so long ago. Newhaven Marine station in the distance was still in active service at the time (image source @Jasonic99)

Ferry operations have moved upstream, confusingly served by Newhaven Town station, and the passenger and freight terminal has been largely disused since then. Only the expense of legal procedure has kept the station nominally served by a daily empty stock working. If nothing else, it has kept the rust off the rails.

Declining fortunes

The fortunes of the port have varied over the years, peaking at two million tonnes of freight in the mid-1980’s, when a mixture of aggregates, scrap metal and ferry traffic supported several railheads, including a container terminal on the quayside.

By 1999 traffic levels had dropped to less than 500,000 tonnes. Despite a recovery to 860,000 tonnes, by 2009, the port was, if not sinking, certainly, listing as badly as the dilapidated roof of Newhaven Marine.

Master plan. we are not very good with plans, but we think the blue bits are the river (image NPP).

In that year, the operators, Newhaven Port & Properties (NPP) took matters in hand with an undertaking to review the port masterplan for the medium to long term.

A green future

The vision for the future has emphasised sustainability, seeking to make Newhaven a ‘green port’ through reducing its carbon footprint and becoming a focus for renewable energy. With the political agenda moved very much in that direction, the timing seems right.

Fortunes are on the up, and the green deal has been encouraged by Newhaven being selected as the base for E.ON to develop its Rampion offshore wind farm.

Bulks in the short term

A stable future has encouraged the operators to investigate the potential to reinstate rail freight services onto the quayside, despite the sidings having lain derelict for over twenty-five years.

Reactivating Newhaven Port. Long neglected sidings refurbished and ready for return to revenue earning traffic (Intermodality)

Locally based consultants Intermodality were appointed to review the rail freight prospects. “In the short term, bulk commodities are likely to offer the most promising prospects for re-establishing rail services, particularly aggregates”, said the conclusion of their report.

Legacy sidings back in use

The sound of a workhorse class 66 diesel in the yard, running tests in mid-June, was tangible evidence of progress. Collaboration between the consultants, the port operators, Network Rail, and aggregates supplier Brett, who were planning to develop a new terminal for marine aggregates on site, along with a cement plant, have culminated in bringing the disused legacy sidings back into life.

DB Cargo’s ‘Thank you” ’66 takes a test load from Newhaven Port – a precursor to revenue earning service reviving very soon (Network Rail)

Network Rail’s Local Delivery Unit (LDU) streamlined the process and, in harmony with a major resignalling programme locally, the necessary works were completed in time for last Wednesday’s test train.

The first shipments of aggregates from the site are imminent, ready to serve London and the South East. Newhaven has risen from a quarter-century slumber. Proof positive that prospects for reactivating long-disused railheads need not be terminal.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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