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Realising the potential of rail freight

Philippa Edmunds's picture
Photo: Rail freight terminal

"We're calling for more freight to be transported by rail, rather than by lorry, to reduce road congestion, accidents, road damage and pollution. I've recently been inspired by a site at Teesport that includes four rail terminals run by AV Dawson.

Freight logistics expert AV Dawson is a £23m, family-owned and run business that has been operating in the Teesside area for over 78 years. Its 100-acre freight handling facility is multi-modal, across sea, road and rail - and over £1 million has recently been invested in infrastructure improvements to integrate rail into the manufacturing process.

The four rail terminals on the site are linked directly to the East Coast Mainline. Each of them offers market-specific freight handling, warehousing and storage. For instance at the Automotive Steel Store Terminal the trains drive right into a temperature- and humidity-controlled distribution centre for steel coil and plate used in the automotive industry.

Here the steel can be unloaded efficiently directly into the store, with no need for road transport and no delays caused by bad weather. This efficiency makes rail freight more competitive.

The site was built on redundant brownfield land - inactive for over 50 years - and employs 240 people, showing the capacity of rail freight to create green jobs and help regenerate regions.

The Government and Transport for the North are currently working together to produce a freight and logistics strategy for the region which will be launched in September. Earlier in the year, Freight on Rail ran a joint workshop with Transport for the North with key transport planners and consultants to highlight what rail freight interventions are needed to allow rail freight to play its full role in the region and beyond. In particular, better East-West connectivity across the Trans- Pennine is required as well as increased capacity on the East and West Coast Mainlines.

And of course more rail freight terminals like the ones at AV Dawson are sorely needed if rail is to compete on a level playing field with road freight. At the workshop we highlighted how central, devolved and local Government have key roles in defining spatial planning and transport policy which advocates the shift to rail so that schemes can get planning permission.

Rail and road complement each other so it is important that each mode plays to its strengths and that is what AV Dawson is putting into practice. Rail freight has an important role in providing a safer, sustainable alternative to HGVs which reduces road congestion."

Philippa Edmunds is manager of Freight on Rail, a partnership of the rail freight industry, the transport trade unions and Campaign for Better Transport.