The Anonymous Widower

Two Unrelated (?) Stories About Rail Freight

Today there are two news stories about rail freight on the Internet.

I’ll sketch out a few details from both stories.

Invest In Rail Freight

This is the first paragraph of the news story.

A new report published by the Rail Freight Group today is outlining how an ‘ambitious growth strategy’ for rail freight over the next ten years could be worth between £75 billion and £90 billion in environmental and economic benefits.

The report was written by well-respected rail commentator; Stephen Joseph

Recommendations include.

  • A new approach from national and local government.
  • New investment
  • More investment in the Strategic Freight Network.
  • Increased electrification
  • New rail linked terminals
  • Reforms to planning laws
  • High speed freight services to city centres.
  • Road pricing could also be used to encourage a shift to rail.

The Rail Freight group’s director general Maggie Simpson is quoted as saying. With renewed focus on the environment, and with new trade opportunities on the horizon, there has never been a better time to invest in rail freight.

Note that invest or investment is mentioned five times in the short news story.

New Owner For GB Railfreight

This is the first paragraph of the news story.

Hector Rail Group has sold GB Railfreight to Infracapital – the unlisted infrastructure equity arm of M&GPrudential.

This article in Rail Magazine was published in July 2017 and is entitled GB Railfreight In ‘Locomotive Acquisition’ Talks.

GB Railfreight has a fleet of seventy-eight Class 66 locomotives with other locomotives in the ageing category. Some of their work like hauling the Caledonian Sleeper needs well-presented reliable locomotives, so perhaps they need to update their image.

Would being owned by Infracapital give the company better access to finance for a renewed fleet?

The previous article indicated, that new investment in infrastructure, like selective electrification, railfreight terminals and perhaps freight loops is needed in the UK Strategic Freight Network.

Would Infracapital be prepared to fund this infrastructure, where it made their locomotives more profitable?

Consider.

  • Partial electrification of the Felixstowe Branch Line might enable a hybrid Class 93 locomotive to haul the heaviest intermodal freight trains between Felixstowe and Ipswich. This improvement would also allow Greater Anglia’s Class 755 trains to run partially on electricity on the route.
  • Doubling of the single-track between Soham and Ely would increase the number of freight paths across Suffolk.
  • Reworking of junctions at Haughley and Ely would also speed up freight trains across Suffolk.

These are just three examples from an area I know well, but in how many places in the UK would smaller projects improve the profitability of new locomotives.

Infracapital would also be paid track access charges for their small sections of infrastructure. So well-planned improvements would have two revenue streams. And both would have a lifetime of thirty to forty years.

Case Study – Partial Electrification Of Felixstowe Branch Line

The Felixstowe Branch Line has now been double-tracked to create a passing loop to the West of Trimley, which allows more freight trains per day into and out of the Port of Felixstowe.

I believe that if sections of the branch line were to be electrified, that a diesel/electric/battery Class 93 locomotive would be able to haul a maximum weight intermodal freight train from Felixstowe to Ipswich.

The freight train would continue South and would use electric power to go to Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester using existing electrified routes through London.

In Issue 888 of Rail Magazine, there is a short article, which is entitled Battery Power Lined Up For ‘755s.

This is said.

Class 755s could be fitted with battery power when they undergo their first overhaul.

Stadler built the trains with diesel and electric power.

The Swiss manufacturer believes batteries to be the alternative power source for rail of the future, and is to build tri-mode trains for Transport for Wales, with these entering traffic in 2023.

Rock Rail owns the Greater Anglia fleet. Chief Operating Office Mike Kean told RAIL on September 4 it was possible that when a four-car ‘755/4’ requires an overhaul, one of its four diesel engines will be removed and replaced by a battery.

I suspect the battery size and electrification can be designed, so that the trains can work the twelve mile branch without using diesel  power.

I can envisage a time, when the following trains on the Felixstowe Branch are zero-carbon.

  1. Freight trains between Felixstowe and London via Ipswich.
  2. Passenger services.

That will be a substantial improvement in environmental credentials.

Conclusion

There is more to this than an insurance and fund management company, funding locomotives.

Suppose GB Railfreight see an opportunity to deploy a new fleet of locomotives on a valuable contract, but perhaps a missing piece of infrastructure, stops them from running the service. Will they then approach their parent company; Infracapital, to see if they can help?

Are we seeing the first green shoots of realism in the financing of much-needed improvements to the UK rail network.

If it works out well, I don’t think that Infracapital will mind the good publicity.

 

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September 23, 2019 - Posted by | Transport | , , , , , ,

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