Bigger freight trains have started full operations between Southampton and Nuneaton in the West Midlands following the completion of a £60M rail upgrade.
The upgrade allows freight trains to move goods using the larger, modern containers preferred by many global shipping firms. It is estimated that the upgrade would also remove up to 50,000 container lorries a year from the roads, easing traffic jams and helping reduce the billions of pounds road congestion costs the economy annually.
The Port of Southampton is home to the UK’s second largest deep-sea container terminal and a key entry point for millions of imported products which are used by consumers and businesses across Britain. Currently around 25% of containers which are handled at Southampton are moved by rail. To increase this needed an upgrade to the railway to be able to carry the more modern 9’ 6” or ‘high-cube’ containers on standard wagons, which are the most economical method for shipping goods, particularly from the Far East.
The project involved knocking down and rebuilding 16 bridges, lowering or slewing the track in 22 places, adjusting 11 station canopies and two station platforms, and setting the track through Southampton tunnel in concrete to create more space for the larger containers to pass through on standard freight wagons. The project has been delivered more than £11.5M under the original £71M budget, largely as a result of the innovative approach used to lower the tracks through Southampton Tunnel.
These high cube containers are larger and more efficient than standard containers. However, the high cube containers are too big to be carried on standard height platform wagons on much of the rail network. Prior to the opening of the revamped line, the only way to carry them by rail is on special low wagons.
Opening the new link, transport minister, Theresa Villiers said: “Ensuring economic stability and growth is vital and one way to achieve this is by investing in the UK’s rail freight network. That’s why we have provided £43M of funding to upgrade this important rail link between Southampton and the West Midlands, which will enable more goods to be transported across the country faster and more efficiently.”
Robin Gisby, Network Rail’s director of operations and customer services, added: “Britain relies on rail freight, with more and more companies switching to rail and reaping the economic and environmental benefits. The upgrade of the route from Southampton to Nuneaton was vital to keep rail competitive as an efficient and cost effective way to transport goods. It will also bring the added benefits of reduced carbon emissions and traffic congestion.
“Increasingly rail freight is playing an indispensable role in everyday life. For example, it delivers goods to stock our shops and supermarkets, coal to provide electricity to power the nation and aggregates for major industries. With the added environmental, efficiency and economic benefits it brings, continued investment, such as we’ve seen here, is essential.”
ABP Southampton port director Doug Morrison said that the port’s ambition is to increase the proportion of containers carried by rail to 40%. “This will reduce the number of containers that would otherwise be seen on local roads and the motorway network. The works are an essential starting point for us to achieve the 40% target and, when the container berth for mega-ships is completed in 2013, this new infrastructure will help support UK economic growth in years to come,” he said.
With the mainline route now complete, Network Rail will start work later this year to upgrade 28 structures and adjusting the tracks in 14 locations on the line from Southampton to Basingstoke via Romsey, Salisbury and Andover which will act as a diversionary route. Eight of these structures will be public highways, the remainder will be on private roads, bridleways or footpaths.