Can Network Rail really cope with Park Street rail freight plan?

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Put the Brakes on Freight - Herts Advertiser campaign - Credit: Archant

Network Rail has vigorously defended itself against claims that it has not explained how freight and passenger services can operate in harmony if a massive Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) is built in Park Street.

But a lengthy letter to St Albans MP Anne Main from the rail infrastructure company’s MD with responsibility for freight and passenger operators, Paul McMahon, has done little to assuage the MP’s belief that critical questions have not been answered.

Mr McMahon was responding to a letter from Mrs Main a month ago asking how Network Rail (NR) would overcome timetabling concerns relating to rail freight using passenger routes to get into the SRFI on the former Radlett Airfield.

She also questioned the current demand for rail freight in light of recent statistics which appeared to show the rail freight industry was in decline.

Helioslough, which is now part of Segro, has planning permission to develop an SRFI but the future of the scheme depends on whether or not the county council is prepared to sell the site, a large part of which it owns, to the company.

Mr McMahon said NR had been working closely with Helioslough this year to evaluate in detail the pathing of trains entering and existing the proposed SRFI.

He stressed that there would be no freight going into and out of the SRFI during the morning and evening peak periods and the evaluation work was to achieve a balance between the needs of Helioslough while not impacting on existing train operators, their performance and future service development proposals.

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Mr McMahon said processes were in place to ensure that new traffic flows integrated successfully with existing freight and passenger operations. Once the evaluati9on was complete, NR expected to be in a position to confirm an ‘efficient scheduling strategy’ to demonstrate how services could be operated around the SRFI within a typlical 24-hour weekday, excluding peak periods.

Turning to the issue of current demand for so-called intermodal freight traffic, he said studies had shown a signficant decline recently in the market for movement of coal by rail.

But there had been a significant growth in intermodal freight traffic in recent years which now represented the largest single component of the rail freight market.

Mr McMahon added that with the slow process in delivering SRFIs in London and the South East, NR remained committed to helping support Government policy and industry investment in realising such developments.

But Mrs Main was not impressed with the reply. She said: “In the 11th hour and the 57th minute, I am baffled that we still have no idea of how the rail freight site is going to operate.

She maintained it was vital to have complete clarity on the issue before the county council decided whether or not to sell the land to Helioslough.

She said she had still seen nothing to ease her concerns about the impact of increased freight traffic on commuters with current passenger routes between London and the South east some of the busiest in the country.

The MP will be meeting NR once their plans are completed but added: “Yet again Network Rail has given assurances without any substance. The public lack trust in this development.

“Back in 2008 the inspector took their assurances at face value yet we are no further forward. I am staggered that we are still in this position.”