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Consortium blasts Railtrack U-turn on WCML freight gauge plans

RAIL CAMPAIGN group the Piggyback Consortium has hit out at Railtrack over its apparent U-turn on freight gauge upgrading on the West Coast Main Line.

The consortium has published a report in advance of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's Rail Summit next week. It claims the 3.89m W10 gauge favoured by Railtrack would divert 'only a fraction of the tonnage' that the larger 4m piggyback gauge could attract from motorways.

The report says reluctance to adopt the piggyback gauge is a 'sad reflection on how Railtrack sees itself delivering on obligations to maintain and enhance the network'.

Railtrack included a £280M scheme to upgrade the WCML to piggyback gauge by 2005 in its Network Management Statement last year. But senior executives told ministers and MPs late last year that the W10 gauge could be achieved on the WCML 'at a fraction of the cost' and would still enable 'the majority of the piggyback market' to be met (NCE 3 December).

But the consortium claims that, based on a study by transportation consultant MDS Transmodal, 'there is no way that the volume of trailers predicted could be achieved' using the 3.89m gauge. It says rail freight operators and their potential customers are awaiting 'with some anxiety' the publication of Railtrack's next Network Management Statement at the end of March.

A Railtrack spokeswoman said neither option had been closed off and that it was discussing both with the Government. 'The WCML is an important route but we think there may be more benefits for the network as a whole to use the W10 gauge,' she added.

Developer Argent Group this week submitted a planning application and Transport & Works Act order for a £200M rail freight terminal West of London. The London International Freight Exchange will be the first terminal at which all warehouses have direct access to rail. It will be located at the intersection of the M4 and M25 close to Slough, and is designed to take 50M km of heavy goods vehicle movements off the roads each year.

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