Government report offers hope to opponents of plans for two Northamptonshire rail freight interchanges

Lord Adonis
Lord Adonis

A Government report published this month suggests the construction of two rail freight interchanges south of Northampton may not be beneficial to national infrastructure, hinting that railways should instead prioritise commuter use.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) provides the Government with impartial, expert advice on major long-term infrastructure challenges.

Its current chair and the former Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, released a report on October 13 which focused on congestion, capacity and carbon.

It read: "Total volumes of rail freight have remained broadly constant over the last 50 years, while volumes on the road have doubled

"An argument for shifting freight from road to rail is often made on grounds of congestion and environmental benefits.

"Rail freight will always have its place, and some enhancements may be cost-effective, but the Commission believes the pilots of “platooning” truck convoys on motorways and major A roads may open the way to radical improvements in the efficiency and capacity of major freight distribution by road in the future.

"This would free up rail capacity for enhanced commuter and inter-city passenger services."

Lord Adonis' report appears to contradict the reasoning behind the construction of the Roxhill and Ashfield Land developments, which have been the subject of local residents' ire for over a year.

Both sets of developers have justified their proposals as "significant national infrastructure" which support a policy of getting freight off the road and on to rail - rather than framing them as just another warehouse park.

As a result, their plans have been dealt with at a national level by the Planning Inspectorate - whose Infrastructure Planning Unit is responsible for nationally significant infrastructure projects.

"Rail freight is already increasingly limited by network capacity as passenger demand increases," continued the report, which makes no mention of creating a network of strategic rail freight interchanges.

"The issues with mixed traffic on the network are well documented – freight trains travelling at 70mph on the same track as passenger trains travelling at 125mph results in a significant capacity constraint.

"Whilst freight can travel at night in some areas, this competes with maintenance work, which also needs access to the track at night.

"Reducing road freight by only one-third would require more than a three-fold increase in rail freight capacity, which simply could not be accommodated on today’s already busy railway.

"The Commission believes that upgrades needed for this sort of shift would be prohibitively expensive, whilst the benefits would be questionable, particularly if truck platooning is successful, given the industry’s clear preference for road transport in most cases."

Roxhill is expected to submit its application for a 5m sq ft warehouse development and rail interchange at Junction 15 in early 2018.

The last of their current consultation exhibitions is at South Northamptonshire Council's chamber at The Forum on Moat Lane in Towcester on October 20 from 2pm – 7pm.