BRIDGES ALONG the London to Glasgow rail route will be raised at a cost of £250M to enable a significant increase in freight traffic, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott confirmed on Monday.
Rail freight operators also stand to benefit from upgrading of track and signalling following the Government's commitment to improve national rail services in the transport White Paper.
The Government is backing the rail industry's objective of doubling rail freight volume in the next five years. Grants to Railtrack and service operators designed to encourage the growth of rail freight are being boosted from £40M to £52M next year.
Rail Freight Group chairman Lord Tony Berkeley told NCE that the £250M cash injection would be provided by the privatisation of the Air Traffic Control service. He estimates that with continued national economic growth rail should expand to capture 20% of the freight market in 20 years time.
Worsening congestion on major road freight arteries and new initiatives in the rail sector are making rail freight more attractive to potential clients, he claimed. However, at the moment containers are too tall to fit beneath many bridges on the rail system.
Railtrack plans to upgrade 300 of its 1,000 existing rail-freight terminals, said a spokeswoman. The company is also looking for sites on which to develop more facilities and has first refusal on property owned by British Rail Property Board.
However, sites with good road access are vital for attracting business. 'Goods transport is by its nature multi-modal. It is unlikely that supermarkets will build rail tracks to their doors,' she said.
Railtrack identifies the largest growth area as long haul and international freight movement.
Daventry rail port manager Keith Spencer said: 'Volume is increasing due to conditions on the roads. But we've got a long way to go before we're on a level playing field [with road haulage].'