HIGH INVESTMENT costs and unacceptable network disruption have forced Railtrack to go cold on the 250M piggyback scheme for carrying road freight on the West Coast Main Line, Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett admitted this week.
Facing strong questioning by MPs on the Transport Select Committee over its freight plans, Corbett was forced to admit that the Railtrack Board now favoured its alternative 'big box' scheme for the WCML.
This new scheme would see special high capacity containers transferred from lorries to rail wagons, rather than the entire lorry trailer as proposed by piggyback.
Corbett told MPs that Railtrack had presented the Government with two schemes for carrying road freight on the WCML the previous week.
But he confirmed that upgrading the WCML for the piggyback concept, in which lorry trailers are placed directly on rail wagons, was less favourable. 'The piggyback option would require public subsidy of 200M,' he said.
However, while accepting that it would eventually be a government decision due to the size of public subsidy involved, Corbett said big box would require less investment and so was preferred by the Railtrack Board.
Big box would still result in a network-wide upgrade programme. But as no tunnels would need to be upgraded it would be much less disruptive.
The big box option would see trains taking 2.9m high deep-sea freight containers used on ships directly from lorries or ships. This would also mean the freight could be carried on routes other than WCML.
The scheme was boosted this week with news that a major train operator plans to buy over 100 new concept rail wagons developed by Babcock Rail. The 'Mega3' piggyback wagon contains a dropped pocket section that allows it to carry road trailers, reducing bridge upgrading work.
Supporters claim that big box would cost less than 50% of the piggyback alternative, under which a large proportion of cost goes to train operators in disruption payments. And the big box scheme would meet over 90% of freight market needs.
'The issue is about the benefit of developing a gauge across the network,' said Railtrack head of freight Robin Gisby. 'Big box will address a large proportion of the piggyback market at a much reduced cost.'
However, Rail Freight Group chairman Tony Berkeley said: 'It might account for 90% of the deep sea container market but it is rubbish to suggest that it can do the same for M1 and M6 freight. It will only serve about 20% of them.'