Gauge enhancements to support rail freight traffic from ports

Development agencies in northern England are supporting work that will enable the new generation of high cube containers to be moved by rail out of ports on the east coast.

The Northern Way coalition has committed £1m in commissioning Network Rail to develop detailed plans for the gauge enhancement of rail routes from Teesport to the East Coast Main Line, as well as the Ports of Hull and Immingham to the East Coast Main Line.

Professor David Begg, chairman of the Northern Way Transport Group said: "The North's ports have grown rapidly over the last ten years and have increased their market share of UK port traffic. In another ten years at least 50 per cent of containers arriving in the UK will be high cube but at present you just cannot move them on standard wagons out of the North's east coast ports."

"A top priority for the Northern Way is therefore to ensure that it is possible to move high cube containers to markets in the Midlands and Scotland from the Tees and the Humber. We are working closely with Network Rail and the ports to make this happen by 2014. Bringing forward detailed designs for the work that needs to be done on the routes from Teesport, Immingham and Hull to the East Coast Main Line is an important part of that"

High cube (9ft6in) containers are increasingly standard in the global shipping industry, but cannot access much of the North's rail network on standard wagons, due to the height and width limitations of tunnels, bridges and other structures. Currently only the West Coast Main Line and a number of feeder routes including access to the Port of Liverpool achieve the required loading gauge. There are also commitments to enhance the loading gauge of routes from the UK's leading container ports at Southampton and Felixstowe by 2014.

The Northern Way has already undertaken work to assess the growth prospects of ports in northern England and the market demand for rail gauge enhancements to enable movement of large containers.

This assessment of the unconstrained market demand then led to joint work with Network Rail on an initial assessment of the feasibility and cost of enhancements to the loading gauge for routes from the Tees, the Tyne, and the Humber to the East and West Midlands, Scotland and across the Pennines to and from the Mersey; as well as from the Mersey into the East Midlands. This work has also identified that the route between the Port of Tyne and the East Coast Main Line already achieved the required standard for high cube containers.

Network Rail is now working up detailed designs for enhancing the loading gauge between Doncaster and freight centres in the East and West Midlands by 2014, which will also enable the Port of Liverpool to access the East Midlands. The Northern Way is in ongoing discussion with Network Rail about similar work leading to the gauge enhancement of the East Main Line north of Doncaster to the Scottish border by the same date.

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