Government plans to give greater control of rail infrastructure to the passenger franchises has set alarms ringing in the freight industry.
The new rail strategy, set out in “Connecting People: a strategic vision for rail”, says: “We will roll out joint teams running day to day track and train operations focused on delivering for passengers.”
This move was described by the Rail Freight Group as “uncomfortable for freight businesses and customers, who operate across the national rail network, and who expect the infrastructure to be managed impartially”.
And Christopher Snelling, the Freight Transport Association’s head of national policy, said: “If the track operations are more closely intertwined with a passenger operator, there is a fear that when it comes to closures for works, or getting the tracks working again after a disruption, freight operators could lose out to the partner’s own passenger train services. Even the perception that freight might get a worse deal in future could discourage users from turning to rail.”
Both the RFG and FTA welcomed the government’s stated commitment to rail freight.
Snelling said: “This strategy reiterates the government’s commitment to improving rail freight, including continued spending on freight-related infrastructure improvements in the next control period, out to 2024. This is a really positive agenda that should improve the rail service for our members, Britain’s producers, manufacturers and retailers. We don’t want to see all the hard work undermined by even the perception that the future of the railways is only about passengers. Britain needs rail freight too”
And Maggie Simpson, RFG executive director, said: “We will be encouraging Department for Transport to consider explicit targets in partnership contracts, to require named senior individuals with responsibility for freight, and to support enhanced governance between different parts of the industry to ensure that Government’s vision for rail freight can be delivered on the ground.”