Gauge enhancement for the region's ports takes a step forward


The ability to move a new generation of high cube containers by rail out of Yorkshire and Humber’s Ports has taken a huge step forward today as it received a £1milion funding commitment.

The Northern Way, formed as a partnership between the three northern Regional Development Agencies; Yorkshire Forward, Northwest Regional Development Agency and One NorthEast, has committed the funding to commission Network Rail to develop detailed plans for the gauge enhancement of rail routes from Teesport to the East Coast Main Line, as well as the Ports of Hull and Immingham to the East Coast Main Line.

Professor David Begg, Chairman of the Northern Way Transport Group said:

“The North’s ports have grown rapidly over the last ten years and have increased their market share of UK port traffic. Looking ahead to their future growth, we need to ensure that the rail network is fit for purpose and capable of moving the new generation of larger containers.”

“The world is moving to a new standard size of larger format “high cube” containers. In another ten years at least 50% of containers arriving in the UK will be high cube but at present you just cannot move them on standard wagons out of the North’s East Coast Ports.”

 “A top priority for the Northern Way is therefore to ensure that it is possible to move high cube containers to markets in the Midlands and Scotland from the Tees and the Humber. We are working closely with Network Rail and the ports to make this happens by 2014. Bringing forward detailed designs for the work that needs to be done on the routes from Teesport, Immingham and Hull to the East Coast Main Line is an important part of that”

Hugh Morgan Williams, Chair of the Northern Way said;

The Northern port cities can secure a strong economic future, by offering the right conditions for business, and capturing the benefits of global trade.  They need access to a comprehensive national freight network, capable of moving goods without adding more congestion on the motorway network.  This commitment by the Northern Way will help contribute to the delivery of that national network, and bring benefits to internationally-trading businesses across the North.”

More information

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact Leona Thompson, Senior Press Manager on 0113 3949589 or email

High cube (9’ 6”) containers are increasingly standard in the global shipping industry, but cannot access much of the North's rail network on standard wagons, due to the height and width limitations of tunnels, bridges and other structures. Currently only the West Coast Main Line and a number of feeder routes including, with Northern Way funding support, access to the Port of Liverpool achieve the required “loading gauge”. There are also commitments to enhance the loading gauge of routes from the UK’s leading container ports at Southampton and Felixstowe by 2014.
To secure the backing of Network Rail, the Northern Way has undertaken a number of pieces of work.
The Northern Way’s Evidence Based Review of the Growth Prospects of Northern Ports identified that the North’s overall share of the UK port market has been growing, increasing to 34% and that the direct impact of ports contributes around 1.5% of the North’s GDP. The report also identifies that the future growth potential is particularly in container traffic but there are important implications for surface access particularly the loading gauge of the rail network if it was to be realised.
The Northern Way’s Market Demand for Rail Gauge Enhancements report then considered unconstrained market projections for containerised traffic moving by rail to and from northern ports.
This assessment of the unconstrained market demand then led to joint work with Network Rail on an initial assessment of the feasibility and cost of enhancements to the loading gauge for routes from the Tees, the Tyne, and the Humber to the East and West Midlands, Scotland and across the Pennines to and from the Mersey; as well as from the Mersey into the East Midlands. This work has also identified that the route between the Port of Tyne and the East Coast Main Line already achieved the required standard for high cube containers.
Network Rail is now working up detailed designs for enhancing the loading gauge between Doncaster and freight centres in the East and West Midlands by 2014 which will also enable the Port of Liverpool to access the East Midlands. The Northern Way is in ongoing discussion with Network Rail about similar work leading to the gauge enhancement of the East Main Line north of Doncaster to the Scottish border by the same date.

Yorkshire Forward

  • Yorkshire Forward is the Regional Development Agency behind the economic regeneration of Yorkshire and Humber. It aims to make a positive difference by investing in jobs, improving towns and cities, and in supporting businesses throughout the region. 
  • Yorkshire Forward’s investment across the region is maximised by attracting European Regional Development Funding from the Objectives One and Two programmes and the 2007-2013 Regional Competitiveness and Employment Programmes.

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