Posted 4th September 2015 | 2 Comments

European Commission under fire for refusing railfreight grant

SEVEN MEPs in East Anglia and the Midlands are urging the European Commission to reconsider its decision to refuse funding for a railfreight upgrade in the region.

The Commission has declined to support a scheme to increase capacity for freight trains between Felixstowe and the West Midlands, which would cost a total of £300 million. It had been asked to provide £86 million under the Trans-European Transport Network programme, but ruled that the proposal did not offer enough 'added value', even though an earlier assessment by the Commission had concluded that the scheme offered a 'highly positive economic result'.

The proposed upgrade would include some double-tracking of presently restricted sections and also the abolition of some level crossings in line with industry policy. The additional capacity would have allowed another 18 trains to run each day, removing an estimated 800,000 lorry journeys a year from the region's congested roads, such as the A14.

The u-turn has prompted the MEPs to write a letter of protest, in which they call for transport commissioner Violeta Bulc to reverse the decision when the scheme is eligible to be reconsidered in early 2016. The letter points out that the rules appear to favour schemes crossing land frontiers, which puts an island like Britain at a disadvantage.

One of the MEPs, Conservative Vicky Ford, who is based in Cambridge and represents the East of England Euro-constituency, said: "We are not asking for special treatment, just a fair recognition of the UK’s unique position as an island nation. We hope this is just a miscalculation or a misjudgment that can soon be reconsidered. Getting such massive volumes of freight off our busy roads and on to the railways has to make sense. British taxpayers help fund the EU budget; we should get our fair share back.”

Some rail schemes in the region have received EU support in the past, including the new chord north of Ipswich which now allows trains from Felixstowe bound for the Midlands to continue west across Suffolk without the need for locomotives to run round their trains at Ipswich.

Writing in the September print edition of Railnews, GB Railfreight managing director John Smith is critical of the lack of capacity to Felixstowe, pointing out the port's rail complex can handle 48 trains, but the line from Ipswich can only accommodate 36.

He says: "Felixstowe is a prime example of where capacity is needed on the network and where large economic benefits could be generated. Plans were originally proposed to double-track the line, but these have fallen by the wayside."

He accepts that doubling of the Felixstowe branch may have to wait until Networth Rail's next five-year funding period, which starts in 2019, but in the meantime he maintains that other capacity enhancements are 'vital' to accommodate demand now and in the future.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Chris Jones-Bridger, Buckley Flintshire

    Over the past 20 years the number of container trains using the Felixstowe branch has more than tripled. Thanks to investment by the port and productivity improvements from the freight companies through longer trains the throughput of containers has seen bigger growth. Unfortunately rail's ability to enhance it's market share will soon be compromised by the limitations of the single line capacity to/from the port.

    Despite this bid for EU support having met on deaf ears what is really disappointing is that double tracking and electrification from Ipswich to Felixstowe does not feature in confirmed investment plans from the DfT & NR. This route is of strategic importance. As GB's MD has drawn attention in the Sept print edition [of Railnews] investment in the parallel road network is seen as vital by our infrastructure obsessed government. For rail freight's competitive advantage to be maintained upgrading the routes from Felixstowe has to be the top freight investment priority.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Maybe the ways things are going in the UK, no-one should be hoping or depending on handouts from the EU authorities. Maybe this time next year, we will no longer be part of the EU. Perhaps it would be wise to start planning for this possible eventuality.