It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t think rail freight is a good idea. Where things get more complex is in translating the enthusiasm into successful operations. Simon Jenkins, vice president responsible for rail freight strategy at ProLogis, points out that there is a desire to make use of rail freight among the major retailers. But, he says: “We have got to make rail freight more user-friendly.”
Retailers want the ability to dip in and out of the rail freight market – they don’t just want whole train loads, he says. That is big issue from the rail freight industry -traditionally it has been more fixed than that.
Success has come to operators that have been able to give customers more flexibility. Jenkins can point to the service launched by Stobart Rail and DB Schenker last August. This temperature-controlled intermodal service from Valencia to the UK uses a shared multi-client train for new and existing customers of both companies.
Stobart argues that by working together: “all road and rail assets achieve high levels of utilisation, thereby enabling a commercially sustainable door-to-door solution for companies involved in the export of fresh products”.
There is some concern that the incoming government could be less supportive of rail terminal developments but Jenkins, who is also a director of the Rail Freight Group, does not see a significant change in policy. He points out that in terms of fundamentals, Labour and Conservatives are not that far apart as the environmental benefits are well understood by both sides.
Jenkins says there is evidence that the market is reviving – with the first signs at prime sites such as DIRFT. “There are a number of major retailers looking for rail-connected distribution centres,” he says.
ProLogis has been at the forefront of developing rail-connected sites. At Daventry it has some two million square feet available on a build-to-suit basis. ProLogis RFI DIRFT II is at Junction 18 of the M1 motorway and has direct rail connections.
It has another two million square feet available at ProLogis RFI Park Howbury which is near Dartford in Kent. At Corby, ProLogis has a 217-acre site, ProLogis RFI Eurohub Main, with up to 3.5m sq ft of space.
Corby is more of a challenge because the infrastructure costs are higher there, he says. But Howbury offers good opportunities as there are few good rail-connected sites around London, adds Jenkins.
On the northern edge of London stands Radlett Aerodrome, which HelioSlough has been working on for several years but has been tied up in planning inquiries.
However, the future could be settled in the next few days. Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, is due to give a decision on the project on 8th July. The proposal is for a 250-acre strategic rail freight interchange offering intermodal facilities and over 3m sq ft of rail-connected warehousing in the North West quadrant of the M25. HelioSlough has been trying to get planning permission for the site since 2006 and has had one application refused in the face of strong opposition from residents in the area.
Pickles had been due to announce a decision on 23rd June but delayed it citing “the need for administrative arrangements to be finalised following the appointment of the ministerial team and the need for careful consideration for this case”.
Another rail-connected development in the pipeline is Gazeley’s Magna Park Peterborough. The development at Stanground on the eastern outskirts of Peterborough is planned to consist of seven warehouses totalling some 4m sq ft and creating 5,400 jobs.
In the Midlands, Roadways Container Logistics owns and operates the 35-acre Birmingham Intermodal Freight Terminal (BIFT) at Birch Coppice Business Park at Junction 10 of the M42 motorway just outside Tamworth.
Developer IM Properties attracted a second car component distribution user called Euro Car Parts, to Birch Coppice in March in a rental deal focusing on a 256,000 sq ft speculatively built logistics facility on phase one of the rail served development. Mike Eagleton of Eagleton & Co, says: “There is a definite ground swell of interest in rail served sites from big named high street retailers.”
At Castle Donnington, developer Clowes and Network Rail have signed an agreement to develop a rail freight terminal at the East Midlands Distribution Centre. And just up the road there are two sheds available totalling 647,000 sq ft at SIRFT, the Sheffield International Rail Freight Terminal, developed by Helioslough in association with CBRE Investors.