It’s important to support rail freight, providing greater priority on the network and targeted infrastructure investment, to deliver modal shift from road and net zero carbon. However, this does not mean every argument advanced should be taken at face value, as I found when I was recently prompted to look at freight capacity on the West Coast main line (WCML), one of the key intermodal routes in the country.
I asked myself three questions:
What is the current level of freight traffic on the WCML?
Is there any spare capacity for freight, and if so, how much?
Will High Speed 2 release additional capacity for freight?
The first question was quite straightforward, thanks to Realtime Trains. Analysis for the south end of the route for two days, Thursday 17 December and Tuesday 2 February, showed quite consistent traffic levels. The number of northbound freights, including one or two mail trains from the Princess Royal Distribution Centre at Willesden, was 27 on both days, with 24 southbound in December and 25 in February. Interestingly, there was a Southampton – Garston train on both days, but no corresponding scheduled southbound train.