‘Network Rail failings are cause to reject rail freight’ says St Albans Civic Society campaigner

Put the Brakes on Freight - Herts Advertiser campaign

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

Network Rail’s lack of response to calls for assurances about the impact on passenger services of trains serving a proposed rail freight depot in St Albans should be grounds to get planning permission overturned.

That is the view of St Albans Civic Society stalwart Eric Roberts, a railwayman all his working life, in the wake of a fudged response to assurances sought by MPs Anne Main and Oliver Dowden that freight trains would not impact on Thameslink passenger services.

Network Rail said it was not in a position to provide the two MPs with a final position on the matter because it was incorporating the ‘emerging requirements’ of a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) on the former Radlett Airfield in Park Street into the next repeat of the process of examining the timetable for the Midland Main Line.

The reply provoked an angry response from Anne Main, MP for St Albans, who said: “I find it incomprehensible that we can still be faced with a massive rail freight terminal imposed on our area without the proper preliminary work.”

Mr Roberts, who worked on the railways for 27 years and was an area manager until regional roles were discarded, is proposing to seek the backing of the Civic Society at a meeting next month to try and get planning permission for the SRFI rescinded.

He said this week: “This is supposed to be a strategic rail freight terminal but they have not factored in how the trains will come aned go. Haven’t we been suspecting this for years?

“Network Rail did not go to the two planning inquiries yet gave assurances that it would be alright and the inspectors must have taken that into account and so did [Secretary of State] Eric Pickles when he gave planning permission.

Most Read

“They have not factored in the works and there is no indication what the impact will be on the enhanced Thameslink service in 18 months time.”

Mr Roberts pointed out that £6.5 billion had been spent on the Thameslink upgrade and he warned that the money would be squandered if improved passenger services on the line through Harpenden, St Albans and Radlett, were impacted by freight trains serving the SRFI as well as Midland Main Line and Inter City services competing for space on the line.

He warned that it was not just the Thameslink line that could suffer but also services in other parts of the county, including Hatfield, because ‘some of these services will dovetail into St Pancras and go through the tunnel.”

He added: “You will get a domino effect. What Anne Main and Oliver Dowden have unearthed here is very significant and I take my hat off to them.”

As well as putting the issue on the next Civic Society agenda, Mr Roberts called on the county council not to sell its land on Radlett Airfield to SRFI developers Helioslough in light of Network Rail’s lack of assurances. He said: “County could stamp on this in one go.”