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Rail freight’s Super 16

The High Level Output Specification (HLOS) that is being produced by the Department for Transport (DfT) is mainly orientated towards the needs of the passenger railway. There is, however, a need for the HLOS to recognise the recommendations of the Eddington report and the need to enhance transport capacity related to urban, inter-urban and international gateway traffic.  This document contains the schemes that have been identified by the Rail Freight Operators’ Association that would contribute to Eddington’s findings and are therefore submitted formally to the Department for Transport for inclusion in the HLOS.

The schemes announced for Transport Innovation Fund (“TIF”) funding by the DfT in December 2006 are a good starting point for rail freight.

  • Capacity enhancements on the rail routes from the South Humberside ports
  • Capacity and gauge enhancement for 9’ 6” containers between Barking and Gospel Oak and Willesden in North London
  • A chord line near Liverpool to allow direct access to Liverpool Docks
  • Gauge enhancement for 9’6” containers between Southampton and the West Midlands
  • Gauge and capacity enhancements for 9’6” containers between Peterborough and the West Midlands

These schemes will allow rail freight growth and are strongly orientated towards the movement of deep sea containers.  They will not meet all rail freight enhancements required from the national network such as capacity (as opposed to gauge) from deep sea ports, gauge enhancement for Continental traffic, accommodating longer and heavier trains and relieving congestion in major conurbations.

The Rail Freight Operators’ Association has devised a series of additional schemes that would benefit from inclusion in the HLOS. These increase the capacity and capability of the national rail network, allow an increase in freight services and help productivity. In addition they will help the environment by allowing more freight to be captured by rail and provide better connection to the UK’s international gateways.


Currently the maximum gauge permitted on the routes from the Channel Tunnel to London and beyond is W9, which accommodates some mainland European gauge vehicles but does not maximise the traffic potential. To increase the volume of business available to rail there needs to be a two stage gauge enhancement project

  • To enhance gauge to W12, which allows the movement of additional European rail vehicles and deep sea containers
  • To enhance a route linking the Channel Tunnel Rail Link with the West Midlands, North West and Yorkshire for full European gauge traffic.

Together these gauge enhancements will allow rail to compete for new traffic and generate a greater level of traffic between the UK and the Continent. 


The first round of TIF recognised the need for gauge improvements on this route to allow container trains to be routed between Felixstowe and the West Coast Main Line (WCML) at Nuneaton, via Ely, Peterborough and Leicester. This is termed the “cross country” route. This will provide an alternative gauge cleared route to the London route, via the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML); the North London Line (NLL) and the WCML to Nuneaton.

After creating the gauge capability, the next logical step is to add capacity to the route. This will allow freight to meet the rising demand from Felixstowe, including the Felixstowe South development the new Bathside Bay port at Harwich. There is not enough spare capacity on the route via London to absorb the extra growth. The additional capacity is needed to allow rail to retain and grow its current market share.

The current signalling of the route is antiquated with long headways, with a single track section between Soham and Ely. Grade separation is provided under the busy East Coast Main Line (ECML) at Peterborough, but no grade separation exists at Leicester, where the cross country route bisects the Midland Main Line (MML). The provision of grade separation at Leicester would add capacity to the route. At Nuneaton grade separation exists, but requires a chord to reach the WCML for Northbound trains.


The first round of TIF recognised the need for gauge enhancements on this route to allow 9 foot 6 inch containers to be conveyed on standard wagons. The next logical step is to add capacity to the route. This will allow rail to retain the existing market share and grow as the port expands.

There are capacity pinch points at the main route nodes of Basingstoke, Reading and Oxford. These can be resolved by longer / additional freight loops. There is passive provision within the existing Basingstoke remodelling for additional loops. Signalling headways are inconsistent between Didcot and Leamington Spa which restricts the current capacity, especially between Oxford and Aynho. Resignalling would therefore increase the capacity of the route. A passing loop on the single track section between Leamington Spa and Kenilworth would also add capacity.


The core route via Eastleigh, Basingstoke, Reading and Didcot was chosen under the first round of TIF for gauge enhancement. No diversionary routes for gauge enhancement were included. These are required to provide an alternative route when the main route is closed for engineering access. Recognising the needs of Network Rail for engineering access and the future need to handle growth, gauge and capacity enhancements are required. Capacity enhancement through signalling and a passing loop between Trowbridge and Thingley are required.

The two alternative routes are:

  • Southampton to Basingstoke via Romsey, Laverstock and Andover
  • Southampton to Didcot via Romsey; Salisbury; Westbury; Melksham and Swindon

These provide alternative routes on the southern end of the Southampton to WCML core route

There is a diversionary North of Leamington Spa. The core route is via Coventry and Nuneaton. The diversionary route is via Solihull, Small Heath, Saltley, Sutton Park and Bushbury, joining the WCML at Stafford. This route would require gauge clearance and some capacity works on the Sutton Park line to provide full functionality between Southampton and the North West


The port of Immingham is located at the end of the South Humberside Main Line (SHML) from Doncaster. This generates around 18% of the total UK freight tonnage with potential for significantly more. This line is therefore a very important route for freight and extra capacity is needed to allow rail to grow with the port. Humber International Terminal stage 2 (HIT2) has recently been completed which has doubled the amount of coal the port can handle.

Additional capacity can be created by signalling works to reduce headways and additional tracks. Currently there are three tracks between Brocklesby and Wrawby, two in the Doncaster direction and one in the Immingham direction. An additional track for trains towards Immingham would add capacity to the route. Sequencing the trains in the correct order to the various loading points at Immingham is important, and adds flexibility to the operation and will improve overall performance. A new line between Lindsey (bypassing the Oil terminal) and the Killingholme line with overtaking loops would create a new route to the HIT2 complex, adding capacity and allowing the correct sequencing of trains.

The line speed also restricts capacity. Between Ulceby and Doncaster the line speed is predominately 55 mph, with Wrawby Junction only 30 mph. The line speed between Immingham and Ulceby is mainly 30 mph. Loaded freight trains generally run at 60 mph, with some modern unloaded trains being capable of 75 mph. A uniform 60 mph along the SHML would also enhance the capacity and flexibility of the route. 


The current national gauge network for W9 and W10 does not provide a through East – West route between the ECML and WCML. They only link together at London and Edinburgh, there is no through route between these points. This means that gauge dependant trains cannot link the ports and terminals in an East – West direction through the Pennines, or between Carlisle and Newcastle. A gauge cleared route is therefore needed to provide the solution. This would allow the ports of Liverpool and Seaforth in the West as well as Hull and Immingham in the East to move containers by rail on standard wagons to the terminals in the North West and North East.

The creation of the East – West gauge routes would have another advantage. It would create a diversionary route between the ECML and WCML. Trains travelling on these lines could divert around any engineering works via the Transpennine routes and the Newcastle to Newcastle line. This would add flexibility to the network.

The derailment at Grayrigg and the blockage of the West Coast Main Line between Lancaster and Carlisle reinforces the critical need for a gauge cleared route from East to West.


The Channel Tunnel Freight routes were designed to accommodate 775m length trains. This allows each train to maximise the amount of goods conveyed. EWS has adopted this length of train as an integral part of the “Big Freight Railway”, whose concept is to maximise the use of the network for freight.

The ports of Felixstowe and Southampton are the largest ports in the country for containers. The need to maximise the use of each train is therefore essential. This will contribute to increasing rail’s capacity from the port and allowing rail to grow with the ports and to expand its market share. Increasing train length will require investment in loops on the network and terminals.


The first round of TIF endorsed the use of this route for gauge dependant services. This provides an alternative to the GEML and NLL from the North Thameside area terminals comprising Tilbury, Dagenham and the new port of Thamesport at Shell Haven. The route currently suffers from poor signalling headways which restricts capacity. Modern signalling would provide vastly increased capacity. Unlike most other routes in the London area, the route is not currently electrified. This restricts the amount of trains that can use the route for diversions. It also restricts the length of trains, as electric traction has better haulage capability. Electrification would allow full use of the route by all freight trains and allow growth through longer trains. 


The route between Southampton and the WCML has no diversionary route on the section between Didcot and Leamington Spa. If the route between Oxford and Bletchley reopened as a through route, it would provide the diversionary route. At Bletchley it links into the WCML which is already gauge cleared.

This route would provide capacity to relieve the eastern end of the Great Western Main Line and the southern end of the West Coast Main Line


There are significant freight flows on the route between Bristol and the West Midlands. These currently use the main line between Bristol and Birmingham which includes the Lickey incline, a steep gradient. This presents a large restriction to freight on the weight of trains and therefore the length of the trains. The line is also a busy passenger route.

Reopening the Stourbridge to Walsall line would provide an alternative route. By using this route the trains avoid the Lickey incline; the steepest gradient on the English main line network. It would also reduce freight trains movements on a main passenger route. The longer trains the route could accommodate would allow more goods to be transported for each train, allowing rail to grow with the Bristol ports. It would also allow rail to capture expansion in the South Wales ports.


This route is primarily used by construction trains, with a limited amount of imported coal.
This route currently has restrictive capacity caused by the antiquated signalling system. The exact spacing of the fast passenger trains by 30 minutes also restricts the overall capacity of the route. Modern signalling would provide a step change in capacity. The provision of loops would allow freight to dovetail between the passenger trains and also enhance capacity.

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