New deopt twist

PUBLISHED: 11:16 19 November 2009 | UPDATED: 14:41 06 May 2010

SIR - The work to rule, strike or overtime ban by First Capital Connect train drivers has brought horror to commuters on the Midland Main Line (MML) and even raised questions in Parliament. It surely adds a new twist to the proposals of Helioslough to add

SIR - The work to rule, strike or overtime ban by First Capital Connect train drivers has brought horror to commuters on the Midland Main Line (MML) and even raised questions in Parliament.

It surely adds a new twist to the proposals of Helioslough to add even more pressures to this busy route with the creation of a SRFI at Radlett.

The timing is ironic just as more public money is about to be wasted when the second public enquiry commences this week.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has recently published its long-term vision for an integrated Strategic Rail Freight Network (SFN) with £200 million of government funding to be channelled through Network Rail (NR) for loading gauge enhancements to W10/12 standards. The funding is available between 2010 and 2015 but nothing is earmarked for the MML. The priorities are listed as: Ipswich to Nuneaton capacity enhancement: £50 million for capacity and signalling enhancements; W10 Gauge clearance: £55 million for Southampton to Basingstoke diversionary route via Laverstock and Andover; in-fill gauge schemes: £40 million for schemes to be identified by the industry; train lengthening: £40 million for schemes to be identified by the industry; Channel Tunnel route: £10 million for signalling modifications to allow trains hauled by Channel Tunnel electric freight locomotives to use the route to the south of London via Redhill; development studies: £5 million for work to develop SFN next stage investment proposals.

DfT is working closely with NR and the freight industry to agree robust freight forecasts up to 2030. The SFN vision envisages that electrification of the MML would provide an exceptional opportunity to create a UIC GB+ gauge cleared route to the Midlands - as used on some European routes and the channel tunnel.

This obviously does not apply to the MML south of Radlett which is already electrified and suffers capacity and capability constraints. Such enhancements, if possible, would come well after 2015.

Indeed the only enhancements to this part of the route in the NR strategic business plan relate to passenger services and longer trains into St Pancras International.

This is likely to hamper the Helioslough proposal, should it gain approval and the scheme could end up being mothballed like the development by ProLogis at Howbury which failed to get the 25 per cent of pre-let space necessary to secure funding.

The constraints on the MML could make it even more difficult for Radlett to meet the needs of the modern freight industry with its operational efficiency requirements for longer freight trains, with a selective ability to handle wagons with higher axle loads and greater loading gauge, together with deep-sea containers.

The unintended consequences could result in a road freight interchange with no environmental advantages but an increase in CO2 emissions.

Perhaps this explains the change of focus from strategic to "complimentary" in the Alternative Sites Assessment (ASA) produced by Helioslough.

In my opinion the ASA is even more flawed than the original assessment and if Hazel Blairs had done her job properly by talking to her colleagues in DfT a costly second appeal could have been avoided and it would have been possible to ensure that these proposals do not conflict with the SFN framework or National Policy Statements (NPS).

From what I have read in the ASA we do not really have a robust, objective, options appraisal but a very narrow area of search which is then used in an attempt to prove that there is no other suitable site.

Helioslough will have been well aware of the Planning Act 2008 and the NPS where the transport paper is imminent. It does appear that the developer has been poorly advised in bringing forward these proposals again, with such haste.

The majority of local residents are against a SRFI at Radlett and we can only hope that the current inspector ensures that the evidence has a probative value or a qualitative weighting that is appropriate, but above all that the views of local people are fully taken into account and common sense prevails.

JOHN NEVITT

New House Park, St Albans

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