Insufficient information about the UK rail network's future capacity is hampering efforts to move more freight onto the railways, according to Rail Freight Group (RFG) chair Lord Tony Berkeley.
Network Rail, he added, had failed to properly grasp the needs of rail freight and lacked the techniques to manage an expanding rail network beyond 2016 and, in particular after the opening of London's new Crossrail line.
Berkeley last week wrote a letter to rail minister Tom Harris, outlining his dissatisfaction with Network Rail performance. He questioned the value of timetabling studies to assess line congestion for 2016 when the Crossrail scheme is due to open.
Timetabling runs commissioned by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) he said: "Would give an inaccurate picture of the situation for freight in 2016 when Crossrail is planned to open".
Berkeley added that the RFG wanted accurate data to present to the House of Lords Crossrail Committee when it opens early next year. This data should include information from Transport for London (TfL), as Great Eastern Line trains use North London Line track while going north from London.
However, the ORR has commissioned two separate studies from Network Rail – one with and one without TfL data.
Berkeley complained about the fact that Network Rail could process only one timetabling study every three months, while the fuller study has been relegated to March, when the Crossrail's Lords Committee will be in full swing.
"The rail freight industry is now left in a situation where the one timetabling run, for which we argued to be done to take into account expected freight traffic at the time of the opening off Crossrail, will not be done in time for the preparation of petitions for the Lords Select Committee on the present expected programme," said Berkeley.
While Berkeley accepts that Crossrail tunnels will not be used to deliver goods to traders on Oxford Street, excluding complete data
will inevitably sideline freight.
However, a Network Rail spokesperson maintained that freight had been a great success story for them, increasing more rapidly than
passenger numbers, and they were keen to provide more.
"And freight will benefit from heavy investment for freight announced by the Department for Transport in the past few weeks," he said.