Freight train at Wrexham General station

Freight objections to passengers in Wales

An EWS class 66 diesel freight locomotive stands at Wrexham General station_(geograph_4025026)Source El Pollock / GeographUK / WikiCommons

A much-improved passenger service connecting communities in Wales and England may not go ahead unless a solution can be found to accommodate rail freight. Despite new trains already on delivery, willingness from the devolved government in Cardiff, and cooperation from local authority leaders in England, the needs of existing freight operators may have been overlooked. As a result, an objection has been lodged, with freight effectively stopping progress in its tracks.

Capacity on the UK rail network – or rather lack of it – is in the news once again. The issues in the north of England have been grabbing the headlines, but this time it is North Wales that makes the news. Wrexham to Birkenhead may not be the most glamourous route in the UK, but to those who use it, it’s a vital connection that badly needs upgrading. However, proposed and much needed enhancements to passenger services in the region have been stalled – by objections from an unexpected source: the rail freight sector.

Significant customers

There is a long-standing desire to improve passenger services north from the Welsh town of Wrexham, making better connections with the peninsula of land between North Wales and Liverpool – commonly known as The Wirral – and the principal town of Birkenhead, at the north end. Birkenhead is an Industrial town, somewhat rivalling its neighbour across the River Mersey, Liverpool. It may have been the first settlement in the world to boast a formal public park, but its industrial heritage still generates traffic for the rail sector. Elsewhere, the presence of Shotton steelworks on the line is a significant customer for rail freight operations.

The line (dark blue) connects Wales and England and the steelworks at Shotton.

Over the decades, the once extensive rail network has been run down, and now the tracks have little extra capacity for new services. However, Transport for Wales [TfW], the devolved authority for the southern half of the route, and the local authorities around Merseyside want to double passenger frequency on the route – running two trains per hour. Unfortunately, without upgrading, that may adversely affect freight paths. According to local media, that is the basis of an objection to the plans.

Last-minute objection

An economic development partnership – Growth Track 360 – says the regulator has received an objection. “[A] rail freight operator is understood to have objected to an application by TfW for track access to deliver the new service that has been promised to local communities”, said their statement. “Our Rail Network cannot cope with further growth without prioritised, targeted and sequential infrastructure and service investment”, adds their prospectus.

Steel-related traffic is part of the mix on the Wrexham-Bidston line (WBRUA)

While the Wrexham – Bidston line is not highlighted as a strategic part of the Growth Track 360 plans for the region, it does figure in their plans and is pivotal to the aims of the Wrexham – Bidston Rail Users Association. They say they represent rail users, potential rail users, and communities’ rail transport interests along the Wrexham-Bidston rail corridor. However, in a social media post, the Association appears unimpressed by the objection. “The freight operator has known about these proposals for year and has decided at the last moment to oppose the half-hourly service”, they say.

Cross-border agenda

The UK government is currently working on a report into cross-border infrastructure. The so-called “Union Connectivity Review” aims to provide a blueprint for better connections between the four nations of the United Kingdom. Scotland to England and Cardiff to London have been the focus, and of course, there has been much talk of grandiose schemes to bridge over or tunnel under the sea between Scotland and Northern Ireland. While indeed also a cross-border connection, it’s not clear if perhaps Wrexham – Wirral may have slipped down that particular agenda.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

5 comments op “Freight objections to passengers in Wales”

Frédéric de KEMMETER|24.11.21|09:09

A very good example of the absolute importance of infrastructure. We also recognise a typical feature of politics: running trains, regardless of the track. The current tendency is to believe that in order to lower costs, trains can be satisfied with a track without much modernisation. It’s of course a mistake…

David Hawkins|25.11.21|15:51

Freight could travel at night.

Tony Burns|26.11.21|13:44

In theory freight can travel at night but that is when Network Rail carry out maintenance.
Why not just run longer passenger trains?

I Like Transport Extra|28.11.21|22:41

The trouble is that in the current day, the infrastructure is so neglected with long signalling blocks or on single track lines, insufficient passing loops that there is no additional capacity. If they had sufficient signalling blocks and passing loops there would be sufficient capacity for passenger, freight and charters. Its a prominent problem that needs to be addressed.

Richard Edward|23.12.22|19:49

The answer is simple! Lengthen the freight sidings and provide a connection to the line at the southern end of the sidings, So freight trains can go straight in and not having to run further up the line to run round. By doing this it would free up paths and provide the paths for 2 passenger trains per hour.

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