St Albans MP launches robust attack on rail freight scheme

Anne Main at a previous meeting with rail minister Paul Maynard

Anne Main at a previous meeting with rail minister Paul Maynard - Credit: Archant

St Albans MP Anne Main has been challenging the controversial Park Street rail freight terminal plans left, right, and centre.

Put the Brakes on Freight - Herts Advertiser campaign

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

She disputed the Campaign for Better Transport’s (CBT) overarching support for all rail freight in light of London mayor Sadiq Khan’s new transport strategy, and in Westminster she reiterated her concerns over Network Rail’s “blithe” timetabling assurances.

The Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) is a controversial terminal planned for St Albans’ Green Belt - the developers, Helioslough, were granted permission with attached conditions, such as the creation of a county park and a relief road in the area.

The plans were furiously fought right up to the High and Appeal Courts by St Albans district council (SADC), but approved in 2014 by former communities secretary Eric Pickles.

Three years later it still remains unclear how extra carriages would work alongside the troubled Thameslink passenger line.

If Network Rail cannot accommodate and schedule them, campaigners fear the SFRI scheme on the former Radlett airfield will transform into a lorry depot and further clog roads in the Park Street area.

Last week the CBT celebrated Mr Khan’s focus on tackling climate change by encouraging more rail freight stations.

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Sustainable transport campaigner at CBT, Bridget Fox, said: “We praise the mayor and Transport for London for embracing the need for road pricing to reduce traffic across London which is fairer on all road users and will be a real improvement on the current congestion charge.”

But freight on rail manager at CBT Philippa Edmunds added: “We support the proposal to lobby the Department for Transport for more rail freight capacity. However, Transport for London needs to recognise that some traffic is destined for the capital and that rail freight brings huge economic, safety and environmental benefits and that it is already avoiding peak hours on the north, west and south London lines.”

Mrs Main was swift to temper the organisation’s enthusiasm: “That is fine, but when freight sites such as the one in my constituency have been granted but no paths on to rail have been agreed, it says to me that we will have a lorry park in the Green Belt.

“The potential upgrades in respect of airport, freight and rail expansion need to come with intense scrutiny of what is going on behind the scenes. At the moment, there is not that scrutiny.” She said Network Rail “hides behind this opaque system of responsibility”.

On the same day, in the Queen’s Speech debate, Mrs Main brought up the issue again and repeated her exasperation with unanswered questions: “How can we allow permission to be granted [for SRFI] on the basis of Network Rail’s blithe assurances that access to the paths can be delivered?

“It still cannot provide any timetables. It is amazing that we keep being passed from pillar to post.”

She pointed out the debate has now been 11 years running, but she “cannot get any facts or figures that show that freight site is deliverable”.

Earlier last week she also wrote to rail minister Paul Maynard, urging him to get answers from Network Rail.

The impact on passenger services from rail freight has also prompted concerns, and although she welcomed recent improvements to the Thameslink service, Mrs Main regretted that “commuters whose lifeblood and family life depend on getting in and out of the city in an effective manner […] still cannot get on a reliable train service.”