Felixstowe South reconfiguration inspector's report

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The Strategic Rail Authority

4.22 The SRA has been in discussion for more than two years with the Promoters regarding their development proposals for both Bathside Bay and Felixstowe. Although a holding objection was originally submitted to the Felixstowe proposals, that is now withdrawn, and the Authority wish to be regarded as supporters of the reconfiguration scheme.

4.23 The SRA's interest in these developments is to ensure that as many containers as possible are carried inland by rail to the extent of the existing and planned capacity of the rail network. From the point of view of rail freight transport, Felixstowe is a good location for container port development because it has an existing rail link, and is well placed geographically in relation to the national rail network. The concentration of container port capacity in large terminal facilities favours rail, because a greater volume of rail traffic enables economies of scale to be achieved, with daily services to more destination terminals. The line to and from the Port currently accommodates 21 two way trains per day. Its maximum capacity would be 25 two way trains per day. Nevertheless, the capacity of the Felixstowe Branch Line and the Ipswich Marshalling Yard, and the gauge limitations of the cross country and East Coast Main Line routes are major constraints at present to the growth of rail freight traffic. If those constraints were to be removed, existing capacity on the rail network would be expected to be sufficient to serve at least a 26% rail mode share of hinterland containers through the Port if development at Felixstowe alone were allowed to proceed. If both Felixstowe and Harwich were to be improved as the Promoters wish, the rail capacity would be sufficient for a 25% mode share until around 2018. Thereafter, unless there was to be further investment in the network (or unless additional train paths were to become available or the average length of trains was to increase above twenty four wagons) the mode share would decline to 22% in 2022 and 2023.

4.24 Gauge clearance from Felixstowe to Nuneaton to W10 standard (to allow High Cube containers to travel on standard wagons) was a project the SRA originally announced in 2001. Since then, however, the funding situation for the railway industry has become such that the project cannot be funded by the rail industry itself. Gauge clearance to W10 standard is, however, something that the SRA continue to wish to see, and the provision in the Section 106 Agreement in relation to the reconfiguration scheme to clear the part of the route from Felixstowe to Peterborough is very much welcomed by the SRA. This would allow the potential rail share to be achieved, because the route via the North London Line to the West Coast Main Line would be able to accommodate some of the containers leaving the Port, and the route across country to Peterborough and then on to the East Coast Main Line would cater for the balance.

4.25 The rail provisions in the Section 106 Agreement would require the Promoters to enter into a commercial contract with Network Rail (or any successor to the SRA) to implement capacity enhancements to the Felixstowe Branch Line, the Ipswich Marshalling Yard, and, if necessary also on the cross country route to Peterborough. The works would also cover whatever is necessary to achieve W10 gauge clearance between Ipswich and four Yorkshire terminals. Unless the commercial contract was signed by Network Rail, the Promoters would not be able to implement the Felixstowe South Reconfiguration without a new planning application and permission. The commercial contract would require the works to be completed by 31 December 2009.

4.26 The Highways Agency has suggested that the specification of the rail works in the Section 106 Agreement is insufficiently precise. The SRA does not agree. The Section 106 Agreement adopts the familiar Grampian approach by providing that development could not proceed until the necessary contract for the works had been signed.

4.27 The SRA and Network Rail have undertaken surveys of the routes concerned to establish which structures would infringe W10 gauge. In most cases, the most cost effective way to achieve W10 gauge is also known. However, the work is not yet at the stage where this can be decided definitively in every case. The description of the works in the Section 106 Agreement is therefore not intended to be a detailed specification. The full details of the necessary works would be included in the binding legal agreement which would need to be achieved before work on the port development could proceed. The purpose of including a description of the works in the Section 106 Agreement is to provide sufficient information to allow the planning application to be determined. This is a similar approach to that adopted in relation to highway work, where customarily a Section 106 Agreement will contain a Grampian prohibition on implementation of development until an agreement under Section 278 of the Highways Act 1980 has been concluded.

4.28 In estimating the requirement for enhancement works, the SRA has taken into account not only the existing capacity of the railway network and the likely changes to timetables, engineering access, and provision to ensure performance of the services; it has also undertaken freight market analysis to establish the likely growth potential in other rail freight sectors. From those assessments it has been concluded that, once the enhancements were in place, the railway network would have the capacity and capability to accommodate at least a 26% hinterland mode share of the growing container throughput of the Port of Felixstowe, including the Felixstowe South Reconfiguration. If both Felixstowe South and Bathside Bay were to be approved, the capacity would be sufficient for a 25% rail mode share until 2018 and, assuming nothing further were to be done to enhance capacity, 22% by the time both Ports reached full capacity in 2022/2023.

4.29 There can be little doubt that there would be demand for this capacity if the railway was able to accommodate it. Rail mode share has been growing at Felixstowe during the 1990s, and has been consistently above 20% over the last six years. This has been achieved despite the disruption following the Hatfield incident in 2001, and despite the growth in High Cube containers, which cannot be carried on W8 gauge.

4.30 The dualling of part of the track from Felixstowe to Ipswich in order to accommodate the extra freight trains that would be generated, would not affect the maintenance of the passenger service along the Felixstowe Branch Line at its current level.

4.31 The SRA is aware that objections have been raised to the reconfiguration scheme by residents of Chatsworth Crescent in Trimley St Mary because of their concern that further development at the Port would lead to additional trains on the line linking the Port to the Felixstowe Branch Line. The residents are concerned that an increased number of trains would lead to an increase in the problem caused by trains stopping at signal number CO632 (to the rear of Chatsworth Crescent) while waiting for a train path to continue their journeys to Ipswich. Residents consider that this gives rise to problems from noise and fumes when trains stand for a lengthy period, waiting for an opportunity to gain access to the Branch Line.

4.32 Three potential solutions have been suggested to address this difficulty. The first two possibilities would not directly involve the SRA.

4.33 The first solution would involve holding the trains in the Port until a path from Trimley becomes available. This is what currently happens with most trains. The extent to which a train can be held in the Port until a path is available is constrained, however, by the capacity and operational capability of the existing Port terminals. The NNRT would provide considerably greater flexibility to manage departure times. In the meantime, the Promoters are in discussion with the Freight Operating Companies to see what can be done to hold trains in the Port for as long as possible in order to reduce the need to stand at Trimley to await a path on to the Branch Line.

4.34 The second possibility considered would involve the resiting of signal number CO632 by 100 metres or so down the spur line towards the Port. Network Rail has examined this proposal, and concluded that it is not operationally feasible because of the curvature of the track, the gradient, the safety rules regarding signal positioning, and the time for which level crossings would need to be closed. The line from the Port is relatively steep in railway terms, with a gradient of around 1 in 100 or steeper. The gradient is also not even; it levels out towards Trimley, so the further back a track stands the greater the chances that some of the weight on the tail of the train is pushed back on to the steeper part of the gradient, and the train could therefore experience adhesion problems in trying to start away. This would also be a problem if the signal were to remain in its current position, but for trains to be asked to wait 100 metres further towards the Port. The same operational problems would arise. Network Rail is also, as a point of principle, opposed to the idea of trains not drawing up to signals. When the signal clears, it is important for operational reasons for the train to move away as soon as possible. It is also important that the signaller knows exactly where a standing train will be at any time.

4.35 The third solution involves the partial dualling of the Felixstowe Branch Line, as proposed in the Section 106 Agreement. Should that enhancement be carried out, there would be significantly greater flexibility to limit the amount of time that freight trains from the Port needed to stand at Trimley. They would also be able to stand in the station instead of at signal CO632 under normal operating conditions.

4.36 It is envisaged that all or almost all the works of improvement to the rail network envisaged by the Section 106 Agreement could be carried out within existing Network Rail boundaries. The funding of these works by the Promoters (at an estimated cost in excess of £75m) would deliver the agreed rail mode share, and be in line with national, regional and local policy on transport. The SRA therefore supports the development proposals on the basis that they would take place with the benefit of the various works and arrangements contained in the agreed conditions and the Section 106 Agreement.

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