Train lines can take rail freight, Park Street Interchange developer says

Ver Valley Meadows.

Ver Valley Meadows. - Credit: Archant

Fears that the Midland Main Line would not be able to accommodate an increase in freight trains have been rejected by Segro, which, as announced recently in the Herts Advertiser, is pushing ahead with plans to build a mammoth strategic terminal at Park Street.

Ver Valley Meadows.

Ver Valley Meadows. - Credit: Archant

In an exclusive interview with this paper, Segro’s business unit director, Thames Valley and national logistics, Gareth Osborn, said that “a heck of a lot of money has been put in to upgrading bridges and lines” to accommodate increased capacity.

St Albans MP Anne Main, and Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden, who have been fighting against the proposed rail freight terminal on the former Radlett airfield, have continually questioned Network Rail about the impact and feasibility of the scheme.

Network Rail, in a letter to Anne in August this year, confirmed that Segro had provided a first draft of its “pathing evaluation study for review” including “safeguarding existing scheduled passenger and freight operations”.

The rail authority said that as a result of a review undertaken on behalf of Segro, it had asked the developer to commission further evaluation work to establish whether traffic to and from the proposed terminal in Park Street could be accommodated, particularly overnight and intra-peak, between 9am and 4pm.

Network Rail said: “We are optimistic that this further evaluation will demonstrate the viability of accommodating the Radlett Strategic Rail Freight Interchange traffic within the existing unallocated freight paths on the south end of the Midland Main Line. However this analysis is still in progress.”

Gareth spoke further on this issue in the second part of the Herts Advertiser’s Q and A with Segro, which wholly owns Helioslough, the original promoter of the controversial project:

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Q: How will the scheme impact on rail passengers, particularly with having additional freight trains on the track?

A: Network Rail has an obligation to keep the network running. I appreciate you don’t want to clog up the network. Network Rail, the custodians of the network, they have the dilemma of growing capacity for passengers, and for freight - that is their direction from central government.

How does it work? Most of the movements of the trains, in and out, they will come in the evening rather than overnight, and there are acoustic barriers [proposed for the terminal]. They are unloaded and distributed next day. The network has lots of capacity.

We have been working out the capacity. You can’t go on the rail unless there are improvements, so we are working at the moment with Network Rail to produce the case to [the authority], which they have already accepted, [and] paths onto the network, because peak timetabling is critical; they can’t compromise that, so you have to go though this exercise.

[There is] a constant flux of capacity. There isn’t a problem, this is actually quite normal.

Q: Why did you launch the legal challenge to fight St Albans district council’s rejection of the scheme?

A: Because we felt that the judgements were wrong. If you look at the national planning framework, and [the government’s] rail freight aspirations, we believed there was a case, that was supported by the Secretary of State, that this is a good location to provide a strategic rail freight network and that has been vindicated.

It was a legal challenge. We won. If we had lost, we would have cleared off.

Q: You’re buying the former Radlett airfield from Herts county council (HCC), when are you going to make an offer on it?

A: Shortly.

Q: Can I ask how much you are going to offer?

A: We put a proposal to HCC three years ago, with a view of buying the land and getting the Section 106 signed off, [but] the council said the proposal was premature, because planning hadn’t been granted at that time ... so in the autumn, an offer will go into HCC which will be conditional on x, y and z. We can’t say exactly when, because I genuinely don’t know.

Q: How much are you likely to offer for it?

A: I genuinely don’t know yet. We have a big team working on all the costs, and we have an idea, but I don’t know ... it’s not a figure we would disclose.

Q: What will the effect be on traffic in this location once it’s operational?

A: You are unlikely to have vans and lorries going to the site in rush hour, because that would be suicide from the operators’ perspective.

The reality is it tends to be self-policing, so between 7-9am and 4-6pm, there is likely to be little movement, because it would go on a network with challenges, so they can move at different times.

Q: Are there likely to be night time movements?

A: There are likely to be, but that depends on what the operators want to do.