Could rail changes scupper Park Street freight depot plans?

Put the Brakes on Freight - Herts Advertiser campaign

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

New national rail proposals outlined this week could have a bearing on the future building of a rail freight depot in Park Street, campaigners are hoping.

HelioSlough has permission to build a massive Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the former Radlett Airfield and Network Rail has always supported the scheme despite concerns about its impact on the rail network, particularly passenger services.

But Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s announcement on Tuesday that he wants the rail network is to be overhauled with joint management teams including representatives from train operating companies and Network Rail could have implications for the SRFI scheme.

Currently Network Rail owns and maintains the railway infrastructure and the operating companies run the trains. Network Rail has steadfastly backed the SRFI scheme despite the major work which would be needed on the Midland Main Line, including significant adaptations on the Elstree Tunnel to accommodate freight.

Govia, which runs the Thameslink line, has remained tight-lipped about the impact of the SRFI on passenger services but its predecessor First Capital Connect (FCC) came out strongly against it.

One of the two new joint management teams will be on the East Midlands rail franchise when it is re-let in 2018 - and that takes in the Midland Main Line which will be used to serve the SRFI.

Eric Roberts, of St Albans Civic Society, who is a former railman, explained that one Midland Main Line pathway was used for freight with the remainder for passenger services including Thameslink.

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And with joint managements operating, the views of passenger operators could become much more prominent. He said this week: “I think this could stop the rail freight scheme in its tracks.

“I believe that the operators, as FCC did, will say we are not prepared to accept this imposition and threats to our services.”

He went on: “Network Rail would say they have a statutory obligation to provide freight routes but the passenger side could say ‘no way, we are under pressure and we are not going to build in that risk.”

He urged Govia to speak out against the impact of the SRFI in the same way as FCC had done.

St Albans MP Anne Main who, with Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden, has been pressing Network Rail to explain how work to create a freight path into the SRFI could be accomplished without a huge impact on Thameslink services, welcomed Mr Grayling’s announcement which she described as ‘a drive to put passengers first.”

She hit out at Network Rail’s ‘complete disregard for passenger services’ adding: “As a local MP, I can think of no better example than their [Network Rail’s] handling of rail freight. There just hasn’t been the work done to show us how freight will affect passenger services in St Albans. It’s simply not good enough.”