Southampton freight project nears completion

A week of closures on the south coast of England will allow completion of a radical upgrade to freight facilities at the Port of Southampton. Between Saturday 13 and Friday 19 February, the line connecting Southampton Central with the towns of Brockenhurst and Romsey will close for engineers to finish upgrades designed to permit far more efficient freight operations. Passengers will face seven days of being shipped around in buses, so that goods can be shipped out of the docks on a new, fit for purpose rail layout.

Engineering teams from Network Rail, the UK infrastructure manager, have been on site for a month, delivering a major railway upgrade in Southampton. The project is aimed at enabling intermodal traffic to operate far more efficiently, bringing economic and environmental benefits to both customers and communities around the port complex. Now, the works are entering their finale, with a week-long possession required to finish the job. That gets underway this weekend.

Completion late February

Southampton has a growing intermodal commitment, and has become a port of choice for the UK automotive industry. It has been hampered by the existing rail layout, which restricts the length of train handled. The requirement for extra marshalling reduces capacity, and that puts demands on the rest of the network. That is all set to change, with the installation of almost a mile of new track (1.6km), 22 new signals and 14 new sets of switches and crossings on the approaches to the port and within the terminal.

Infrastructure trains have become a common site on the approaches to the port at Southampton, as work continues to improve the rail layout (Network Rail)

Technical teams have worked around the clock, since the end of January, remodelling lines between Southampton Central and Redbridge, used by freight trains to access the Port of Southampton. An engineering possession is now required to commission the new layout. That means a line closure between Saturday 13 and Friday 19 February. Passenger services on the mixed traffic parts of the route will be suspended between Southampton Central, Brockenhurst and Romsey. Bus replacements and some rail shuttle services will operate.

Future faster, greener operations

Until now, the port complex has been unable to deal efficiently with standard maximum length (740m) intermodal formations. The improved railway layout means freight trains will no longer need to shunt in and out of Freightliner’s Maritime Terminal to load and unload. According to Network Rail, the combination of new track, allowing trains to move at higher speeds, plus the provision of longer sidings, will improve the efficiency of freight operations by as much as 30 per cent.

The infrastructure operator’s statement doesn’t break down that figure, but clearly there are time, handling, fuel and capacity savings to take into account. Network Rail says there will also be environmental benefits. “Longer freight trains will cut down on the number of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) on the roads. Each train will be able to carry up to 14 extra containers – cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions”, says their statement.

Longer and heavier freight trains

Network Rail’s director of freight, Charlene Wallace, said the project helped deliver on wider ambitions to promote modal shift to rail. “We’re delighted to see this programme moving forward, building on the work already undertaken in Southampton that is helping our customers run longer and heavier trains”, she said. “We’re committed to getting more freight onto rail and schemes like this give the sector the boost it needs to deliver.”

Detail form the new layout, looking south, towards the Freightliner managed Southampton Maritime terminal (Network Rail)

Network Rail say the principal intermodal flows currently connect Southampton with Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, and the upgraded layout, which has cost 17 million pounds (over 19 million euros) will reduce long-distance road traffic originating from the south coast. Mark Killick, Network Rail’s Wessex route director, was looking forward to the project work completion. “The line closure between February 13 and 19 will bring the core work of this project to an end, and huge benefits to our freight operators and the local environment”, he said. “It’s vital that we continue to modernise the rail network and we’re grateful to those living close to the railway in Southampton for their patience while we finish this work.”

Southampton Maritime, the intermodal terminal managed by Freightliner, also has daily services to destinations in Wales and Scotland. On the company brochure, high on the list of available services is ‘shunting’. A service that should be in less demand from now on.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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