Extra Investment in Railfreight in Southampton as the Government Finally Realise the Infrastructure is Inadequate

Freightliner Stock (Freightliner)In announcement on 13th October, 2020 that has been made before, the Conservative Government has confirmed that an extra £17 million is to be invested to bring the Port of Southampton railfreight infrastructure up to European standards.

Right across the UK a longterm programme to extend railfreight sidings and container handling bays has been taking place. Now almost at the last minute the Conservative Rail Minister has realised that they had forgotten to increase siding and passing loop lengths to 775 metres to accomodate the now standard European container trains of 750 metres. This was done at many ports and inland road-rail interchange depots several years ago, but apparently not yet in Southampton where the maximum train length is still restricted to 520 metres.

The adoption of the now standard train length of 750 m will enable traffic to and from the port to be increased with by extra 14 containers per train. In practice this means 14 more HGVs are taken off UK roads per train.

The recent Network Rail press release seems to have confused matters by stating that current maximum capacity is 14 tpd from Southampton - and the improvements will raise this to 24 tpd. However, Network Rail misinterpreted a report on the Port of Southampton written by ABP in 2011. The ABP report stated that there were 19 trains per day (tpd) in 2011 with an additional 5 train paths that were unused but available.

In fact 19 tpd were operated in 2011 within a maximum capacity of 24 tpd and this capacity was expected to be filled round about 2020. The capacity is consistently expected by both Network Rail and ABP to remain at a maximum capacity of 24 tpd as far ahead as 2030, i.e. the maximum capacity in terms of tpd is unchanged. The claim that the investment is enabling an extra 10 tpd is incorrect - but sadly has now acquired the status of a "Google myth".

The track and signalling work to complete the project is expected to be completed by Easter 2021.

Liberal Democrat Nick Hollinghurst, Hertfordshire County Councillor for the Tring Division says, "There is good news here. The £17 million is enabling an increase in train length and so an increase in the number of containers transported per day. This is good for the environment, the UK road users and for the efficiency of the railfreight industry, but it is neither new money nor very much money in rail industry terms."

He added, "It also highlights the low priority that both Network Rail and the Tory government give to railfreight. Network Rail messed up their press release and the government has provided a paltry sum of money for a minor infrastructure development that actually does not improve the number of train paths available to and from the important port of Southampton."