A massive timetable overhaul is being implemented to potentially free-up thousands of slots for passenger services
The shakeup came after Britain’s rail freight industry collaborated over a two-year, industry-wide review into more efficient freight operations. Together, Network Rail and freight operators identified 50 per cent of the reserved slots on the railway for freight trains were not being used and could potentially be given up for thousands of new passenger and freight services.
Per week, 4,702 allocated ‘paths’ – the slots a freight train has on the railway and in the timetable – have been relinquished, freeing-up much needed capacity on the rail network. They could become available for all train operators to run additional services on a daily basis or re-time existing services to reduce congestion and improve reliability.
This additional capacity has been created at zero cost and has not led to any reductions in the number of freight trains running on the network. It represents a huge opportunity for both freight and passenger operators to increase traffic on the network without the need for expensive infrastructure enhancement schemes. The spare capacity can be attributed to a number of factors:
- the unprecedented decline in coal traffic over the last two years, and a dip in iron and steel
- more efficient freight operations including running longer, fuller, heavier trains
- savvy timetabling and better freight industry productivity, running fewer, part-loaded freight trains, reducing wasted capacity
Meanwhile, construction and intermodal freight traffic is growing on the rail network and additional paths are needed in order to support the economy across Britain. 1,000 of the removed paths have been safeguarded for future strategic freight growth, which is essential to allow for expected increases in key freight markets. The rail freight market can have the confidence that future traffic growth can take place without being hindered by the need to always build additional capacity.
Paul McMahon, Network Rail’s managing director for freight and national passenger operators said: ‘It is important the whole rail industry works together to make best use of existing capacity, to minimise the need for additional expensive capacity enhancement schemes.
‘This is a real win-win and has truly been a collaborative piece of work with the freight operators. Capacity has been freed up for the whole railway but essential capacity is reserved for freight operators. This is important given the need to support the growth of freight on the network to support the economy.’
Russell Mears, chief executive of Freightliner and chair of the Rail Delivery Group Freight Group, said: ‘The freight operators and Network Rail have worked together in an effective and pragmatic way for the wider industry good. Whilst retaining some key paths as strategic capacity to support future freight growth the release of other residual paths is essential in helping the government get the best value for money from our capacity constrained railway.’