Friday, April 9, 2010

High Cube Rail Freight Container Shipping Link Draws Closer

Britain's Northern East Coast Ports to have Upgraded Lines
Shipping News Feature

UK – The Northern Way, an initiative by three northern Regional Development Agencies (Yorkshire Forward, Northwest Regional Development Agency and One NorthEast), has committed a million pounds to allow 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.

High cube containers, normally around 9’ 6” in height compared to the usual 8’ 0” to 8’ 6” units, are becoming more and more prevalent as standards' overseas change to accommodate high cube cargoes. Professor David Begg, Chairman of the Northern Way Transport Group, estimates that at least half of the containers arriving in the UK will be high cube within a decade but currently these simply cannot use the existing rail system from 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, said Professor Begg. “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"

The work on the rail line connecting Teesport to the East Coast Main Line at Darlington therefore has been identified as a regional priority. Regional Development Agency One North East and partners including Tees Valley Unlimited and PD Ports are currently finalising how to deliver the next stage of the project - to complete the works identified by this Northern Way study through the Tees Valley Industrial Programme (TVIP).

News of the investment was welcomed in the region, not least by PD Ports, owners of Teesport. David Robinson, Group CEO of PD Ports commented, "This acknowledges the essential role which Teesport plays as a key economic driver in the Tees Valley and the whole of the North-east region. An upgraded rail link is vital to connect Teesport to the rest of the UK rail network for freight distribution.” He said he felt that in the longer term this development would attract further inward investment to the region meaning more local jobs.

The taller containers are increasingly being used by 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, with Northern Way funding support, 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's Evidence Based Review of the Growth Prospects of Northern Ports identified that the North’s overall share of the UK port market has been growing, increasing to 34% and that the direct impact of ports contributes around 1.5% of the North’s GDP. The report also identifies that the future growth potential is particularly in container traffic but there are important implications for surface access particularly the loading gauge of the rail network if it was to be realised.

The Northern Way's Market Demand for Rail Gauge Enhancements report then considered unconstrained market projections for containerised traffic moving by rail to and from northern ports. This assessment 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.