Rail freight investment should be a priority to protect environment, say business leaders

A SENIOR figure at Associated British Ports (ABP) has expressed concern that rail freight has not been made a priority in plans to improve rail connections across the Pennines.

The boss of Drax has called for action to ensure freight can move efficiently across the North. Picture by Simon Hulme

Dafydd Williams, ABP’s Humber head of corporate affairs and communications, said strong rail freight connections can unlock economic growth and boost jobs while reducing congestion and carbon emissions.

He added: “It is disappointing that freight isn’t being given the priority it should be in future TransPennine rail connections. The Humber Ports currently place thousands of lorries on roads in the North every week and a large proportion of them could be on rail with the right infrastructure in place.”

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Andy Koss, the chief executive of Drax Power, which employs 900 staff at its giant power station near Selby, has also called for action to ensure freight can move efficiently across the North.

Last week, The Yorkshire Post reported that crucial plans to massively upgrade rail links for freight traffic across the North of England are set to be abandoned. Officials at the Department for Transport (DfT) have let freight bosses know they will only put forward plans to electrify the route between Leeds and Manchester for passenger trains, with plans to apply the same improvements to freight trains set to be scrapped for the foreseeable future. Freight bosses said they have been left “disappointed and dissatisfied” by the decision.

Mr Koss said: “Investment in the freight network in the North is essential if we are to establish highly effective, cost-competitive supply chains, and decongest our roads.

He added: “We aim to continue to work with Government and partners through the Northern Powerhouse partnership, to secure funding and ensure fast, efficient movement of freight across the Pennines.

“An effective rail network is crucial to ensuring British industry can continue to compete globally.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Rail freight plays a vital role in transporting goods around our country and cutting congestion on our roads.

“The first phase of the TransPennine route upgrade is the biggest planned investment project in the UK on our existing railway. Further upgrades will be considered once we have established what will be delivered first.

“Over the next five years we will be focusing first on those upgrades which will lead to the biggest improvements for passengers.”

The spokesman added that the first phase of the TransPennine route upgrade will support “state-of-the-art” trains, longer carriages and more frequent services. The spokesman said that the Department was working with Network Rail, in consultation with Transport for the North, “to determine the best way to achieve major improvements”.

The Department for Transport plans to invest £3bn upgrading the railway between Manchester, Leeds and York from Spring 2019 to 2024.

Work is already underway to support the TransPennine route upgrade, the spokesman added. Improvements have been delivered at Micklefield, West Yorkshire and more are planned to support faster services and longer trains, the spokesman added.

The spokesman said that the Department for Transport is upgrading the Calder Valley route across the Pennines to provide an alternative route for passengers during these works.

The spokesman added: “The next part of our investment programme for the TransPennine route will include civil engineering and electrification works.”