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Operators fear passenger services could hit freight gains on WCML

RECENT INCREASES in the amount of freight carried by rail will be wiped out unless more freight trains can access the network, operators warned this week.

Their fears centre on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) upgrade, which is expected to be scaled down, raising fears that freight paths will be sacrificed for passenger services.

Passenger and freight operators are meeting with the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) and Railtrack tomorrow to discuss a reduced scope WCML upgrade and access arrangements.

If insufficient paths are allocated to freight, operators will petition rail regulator Tom Winsor for more. He sanctioned the original agreement for 42 freight paths a day on the upgraded line.

The freight industry is forecasting it will move 19.3bn tonnes/km in the year to April, up from 18.1bn tonne/km last year, and a 48% increase since 1995.

But operators fear that these hard won gains are at risk, because freight will lose train paths to passenger services and night services are being hit by track closures for possession work.

A reduced WCML upgrade specification, caused by escalating costs and Railtrack going into administration, could be disastrous for freight, operators warned this week. The WCML carries 43% of all rail freight in the UK.

Originally, the upgrade included provision for 42 freight train paths a day to the passenger allocation for Virgin. But operators fear that freight, rather than passenger paths will suffer if the final phase of the upgrade is scaled down.

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