The North-west is a diverse region and home to seven million people – almost one eighth of the total UK population – characterised by the two major cities of Liverpool and Manchester. The North-west is also a leading industrial base, containing one third of the UK’s manufacturing jobs.
Two transport corridors of international significance run through the North-west region. One is the main North-South transport spine, comprising the West Coast Main Line and M6 motorway. This corridor provides the main rail and road links between the North-west and the West Midlands, the South of England, and continental Europe via the Channel Tunnel, Channel Ports and Scotland.
The second corridor, the West-East spine, includes the Trans-Pennine rail routes and the M56 and M62 motorways, linking Merseyside, Cheshire and North Wales with greater Manchester, Yorkshire, Humberside and the nine east coast ports. The M62 also connects the M6, the M1 and the A1, and serves a wider strategic need to distribute long distance freight traffic around the country.
For the North-west region, the West Coast Main Line, the M6 and M62 motorways are all vital arteries for the movement of freight. In terms of freight movement the Port of Liverpool, the country’s fourth busiest port, is the single largest generator in the region, serving Ireland, Europe and global markets.
Following the decline of traditional manufacturing and related industries, economic policy has been directed towards making the North-west more competitive and encouraging those sectors with the greatest potential for sustainable growth. As such, the efficient movement of freight is considered essential in underpinning the viability of these sectors. Hence, the need for a high quality, integrated transport system that meets the requirements of industry and commerce in the North-west.
Key stakeholders in both the public and private sectors have collaborated to develop a freight strategy for the region, under the auspices of the North West Freight Advisory Group (NWFAG). The group was established by a joint initiative between the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and the Northwest Development Agency (NDA). Other partners included the North West Regional Assembly (NWRA), the Government Office of the North West, local authorities, the Highways Agency, the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), ports and airports as well as service providers and users.
The North-west of England has some of the most congested road and rail routes in the country and yet millions of tonnes of freight have to be delivered in or moved through the region each day. It is recognised that without immediate investment in regional infrastructure, transport and economic growth in the region is under threat.
In response to its task the Freight Strategy Group (FSG) focused on several key issues, which it considered have a regional dimension and significance. Among these were the management and maintenance of the regional highways network and the regional rail network as well as ports and inland waterways.
The highway network comes under particular scrutiny for the obvious reason that road haulage accounts for the majority (over 90%) of all freight movement in the North-west. Substantial investment in highway construction during the past 30 years has created a high standard of strategic network of links throughout much of the North-west and other regions. However, parts of this FIGURE 1: regional highway networkhighway network are suffering from significant congestion, with a number of sections operating at or above their design capacity (see Fig 1).
The motorway network in particular experiences regular congestion during peak periods, which are extending in time duration. The M62 and M6, in the south of the region, are considered to be under the greatest stress. This is of particular concern, given the need to maintain their strategic function in the face of continued traffic growth. The main issues on other routes relate to road safety, the environmental consequences of through traffic in towns, villages and the wider countryside, and journey time reliability.
To overcome these difficulties the FSG proposes an action plan for highways, which includes:-
- Identify those routes which are important for the movement of freight, and identify, assess and prioritise network problems that have significant impact on freight operations.
- Contribute to the process of developing and implementing Functional Road Hierarchies.
- Develop and submit comments on Route Management Strategies from a freight perspective through the normal consultation period.
- Monitor the Active Traffic Management (ATM) pilot on the M42 from a freight perspective and contribute to the assessment of its potential for introduction in the North-west.
- Assess Primary Route Network signing to main freight destinations, including ports, airports and inter-modal terminals.
- Encourage the development of a linked information system across highway authority boundaries with respect to road maintenance and improvement operations.
- Develop consistent maintenance standards on all routes within the Regional Highway Network which cross local highway authority boundaries, and monitor maintenance indicators for local authority roads as set out in Local Transport Plans and Annual Progress Reports.
- Ensure that the Regional Transport Strategy incorporates specific policies related to the environmental and social impacts of road freight, including route, designation and management.
- Advise on highway issues from a freight perspective which could impact on the Regional Transport Strategy.
The proportion of total freight tonnage moved throughout Britain’s rail network increased from 8.5% in 1994 to 11.2% in 2002. Since privatisation, private sector rail freight operators, terminal and rolling stock providers and end-users have committed some £1Bn for investment in locomotives, wagons and facilities for further growth. The North-west contains an extensive rail freight network, providing North/South, East/West links and direct services to the Port of Liverpool and several intermodal freight villages, including Widnes and Trafford Park, and importantly links to potential new freight villages.