St Albans Civic Society asks: ‘Can Network Rail cope with the demands of rail freight depot?’

A train passes by houses in Harpenden

A train passes by houses in Harpenden - Credit: Archant

Pressure must be put on Network Rail to come up with schedules and costings for work needed on the proposed rail freight depot in the wake of the scrapping of its five year plan.

Last week the government announced that promised upgrades to major rail networks, including the Midland Mainline, had been shelved because of rising costs and missed targets in Network Rail’s programme of works.

In light of that decision, St Albans Civic Society is calling on the city’s MP Anne Main to try and establish Network Rail’s schedule of works needed for the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) in Park Street, the costings and who would pay for it.

The rail link into the SRFI on Radlett Airfield is a key component of the proposal but while Network Rail supported the planning application from developers Helioslough, it has never been clear when the work would be carried out and who would foot the bill.

Eric Roberts of the Civic Society said this week that while the shelved upgrades from the five year plan would not have a direct effect on work to create the SRFI, issues such as when increasing the height of tunnels and signalling work would go ahead needed to be raised in light of the fact that Network Rail had not met its targets.

He went on: “Clearly Network Rail’s finances are in disarray and this doubles the need to say where is your schedule now, how much is it going to cost and who is going to pay for it?

“This is an opportunity for our MP to say, come on, where does this put this scheme?”

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Mr Roberts does not believe that any future work on the SRFI will affect the Thameslink upgrade which is now well underway and is being heralded as the means to provide better and less disruptive services for passengers in the future.

But he said it would be ironic if no sooner was the Thameslink line running smoothly without constant weekend work disruption than Network Rail said, “we have to dig it all up again at weekends” to carry out work to access the SRFI.

And should the work needed to access the SRFI not go ahead or the site prove to be inaccessible, that would result in the scheme becoming a lorry rather than a rail freight facility which the Civic Society has always feared.

Mr Roberts added: “In one way the idea of putting more freight on rail is good but there are so many unanswered questions.”

At the last public inquiry into the scheme, the then-Thameslink train operators, First Capital Connect, came out strongly against the SRFI because of the likely effect on its passengers.