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08 December 2021 The on-line newspaper devoted to the world of transports 13:20 GMT+1

Special Interest Group on Maritime Transport and Ports
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Genoa - June 8-10, 2000

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Railfreight Deregulation and Revival: A Study of Rail-Port Integration in European Port Traffics

Author: Dr.Merv Rowlinson*, Senior Lecturer in Shipping and Transport, Centre for International Transport Management, London Guildhall University, 84 Moorgate, London EC2M 6SQ. Tel: 44 020 7320 1456; Fax: 44 020 7320 1465; E.Mail:

* With many thanks to the following for sharing their expertise:

David Cross, General Manager Sales, ABP, London,
Paul Davey, Corporate Affairs Manager, Hutchinson Ports, Felixstowe,
Robert Goundry, Director of Strategy, Freightliner, London,
John Healy, General Manager, Port of Boston,
Miller Howieson, Inland Operations Manager, P&O-Nedlloyd, Southampton,
David Hutson, Director Operations, NYK Line(Europe),
Bill Stoker, Freight Services Manager, Harwich International Port
Frank Worsford, University of Westminster.


This paper reports on research carried out on the subject of developing railfreight linkages in European ports. In particular, attention is given to the critical factors determining rail's competitiveness. The large volumes of freight generated by maritime trade provide excellent potential for inland shipment by rail, given improved marketing and competitiveness. The context is derived from the forces of de-regulation, sharpened entrepreneurialism and heightened awareness of environmental factors in transport and logistics. The concept of sustainable transport and distribution is coming increasingly to the forefront. This provides considerable opportunities for a revived railfreight business. These have all helped to increase the profile of railfreight in Europe, particularly in the UK. Rail linkages with the ports have, therefore, become increasingly important, particularly given the extent of expansionist plans in a number of key hub ports. The environmental debate surrounding port development has raised the controversial question of increased road building and intensified road haulage movements; railfreight can offer an alternative inland linkage with the port. In such ports as Antwerp, Felixstowe and Southampton, railfreight linkages have become central to the debate on expansion. It is now evident that a new paradigm is called for in assessing the role of railfreight in port trades.

The evidence from the UK is that privatisation and deregulation have proved to be catalysts for a railfreight revival, reversing the long term trends of decline. This is particularly evident in rail linkages with ports. Key international traffics - containers, steel, coal, chemicals, foodstuffs - have been won from road competition. UK ports now actively market their rail linkages. It is, however, highly apparent that many obstacles to rail growth still exist. Rail congestion is already manifest in the UK's two largest container ports, Felixstowe and Southampton. Nationally, there is acute competition for track space with the passenger operating franchises. Appraisal of the barriers to rail development , as well as opportunities will be made.

The objectives of this paper are to establish the key economic and environmental factors that influence railfreight-port linkages vis-à-vis road haulage competition. This will involve the identification of best-practice in European rail-port logistics and the critical factors of modal selection in port generated traffic flows. Generally, the success of railfreight in port trades will depend upon the level of provision, its competitive response to customer needs and inter-modal integration.

Four case studies have been drawn from the UK experience of privatisation and deregulation in both railways and ports; the intention is to consider the impact of such changes and to assess the implications for continental systems now pursuing a similar strategy. Exciting new projects such as the "Iron Rhine" railfreight link between Antwerp and Duisburg and the proposed mega-container hub, "Jade" at Wilhelmshaven offer great opportunities for railfreight businesses. Open access soon to be enjoyed by new railfreight providers could prove a flexible, dynamic and competitive and inland linkage to continental ports. It will be, therefore, of interest to consider the evidence from the UK rail and port industries.


This paper considers the many issues surrounding the attempts to secure a European railfreight revival. The selected area of freight transportation is that of the port-rail interface. Considerable organisational, political and operational changes are currently impacting on the European rail network. The evidence of de-regulation and privatisation in the UK network has significant implications for the rest of Europe, forcing a re-evaluation of rail performance vis-à-vis road haulage. Additionally, the heightened focus of rail in European sustainable mobility strategies has emphasised the inland alternatives to road haulage. The increase in UK railfreight, particularly in new markets, contrasts somewhat with the disappointing performance of Channel Tunnel and other intra-European freight in recent years. Table One features the first five years of privatisation. It can be seen that that the 1994-8 period brought a 139 percent increase in Channel Tunnel traffic. However this was predicted to fall by 18 percent between 1998 and 2000. The two railfreights featured here, coal and intermodal are largely derived from deepsea traffic movements. The import of large coal shipments in panamax and capesize ships to such deepwater quays as Hunterston (Clyde) and Immingham (Humber) generates significant demand for rail haulage.

Table One: Privatised Selected Railfreight Million Tonne-Kilometres, 1994-2000

Domestic Intermodal
Channel Tunnel

Source: Railtrack (2000) The Challenges Ahead. London: Railtrack.

Similarly, box movements to and from such ports as Southampton, Thamesport, Tilbury, Felixstowe and Liverpool provides demand for mainline Freightliner trains, usually for distances in excess of 160 kilometres. The forty percent increase in total railfreight movements points to the freight success of the early privatisation period.

1.1 The Problem

It is apparent that the case for sustainable transport alternatives to road is gaining considerable momentum in political and some industrial circles. Essentially, the railfreight industry needs to be able to promote its economic and logistical advantages within the environmental context. This means competing over shorter distances, achieving costings, timings and reliability standards comparable to road haulage. Given the decline in the traditional staple freights - coal, iron ore, steel, bulk chemicals - brought about by changes in the industrial structure, new markets need to be re-entered. This includes time sensitive goods. Train loads of perishables such as bananas from Avonmouth docks and fresh fish from Aberdeen and West Country milk were lost to road due to the poor rail services of the post-1960s (Bonavia). The challenge of the new rail imperative is to win back such traffics by a combination of cost, quality and environmental attributes. It is apparent that despite the renewed attractions of the rail case, the environmental advantages of switching freight from road, many economic, logistical and perceptual obstacles need to be overcome. The historic problems of an ageing infra-structure, shortages of track capacity, under-investment and the years of malaise and uncertainty had atrophied the network. In mainland Europe it is evident that poor co-operation between state railway corporations and limited entrepreneurial dynamism is stifling rail's potential to make significant impact on road haulage's dominance.

1.2 Outlining The Rail Case

The recognition of rail's environmental advantages was made evident in the Commission of the European Communities report, The Future Development of the Common Transport Policy(1992). This report highlighted the external costs of road haulage, including pollution, congestion and road surface damage. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution Eighteenth Report, Transport and the Environment (1994), was testament to the growing awareness of the road problem in the UK. By declaring the positive environmental advantages of the freight transfer from road to rail and water transport, the Royal Commission justified the tripling of railfreight in a ten year period. The target was later to be adopted by the UK's major railfreight operator, English, Welsh and Scottish Rail (EWS) and was endorsed by the 1998 Government White Paper, A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone (DETR). Notably, this paper identified the strategic needs to up-grade rail links into ports (DETR).

In addition to political forces promoting the rail imperative it is becoming apparent that many business activities are concerned by environmental issues and, as a consequence, wish to pursue a greener transport strategy.

Another dynamic of freight transfer is drawn from the economic and logistical advantages inherent in some sectors of railfreight operations. The ability of rail to move large consignments over long distances at low tonne-km costs does prove attractive to a section of service users. McKinnon found that:

in terms of direct line-haul costs, trains are a much more efficient means of transporting freight than lorries, mainly because they consume less energy per tonne-kilometre and achieve much higher levels of labour productivity
(McKinnon pp.163-3).

This aspect of railfreight economics has not been lost on port users faced with the task of moving large volumes to and from the ship. The concentration of key container, ro-ro and bulk traffics in the leading ports has enhanced the prospects for rail.

1.3 The Obstacles to Freight Transfer

Despite the growing momentum of the railfreight case, a number of critical considerations need to be made. The critical areas for the rail mode option have been identified as:

  • goods not suitable and/or time sensitive;
  • low level of potential users connected to rail network;
  • majority of freight flows short-distance;
  • poor perception;
  • passenger train priority (Worsford and Blair).

Unsuitable goods include just-in-time flows highly specific to the customer's needs. Railfreight has not achieved a widespread domestic success in meeting the demands of fast moving consumer goods, particularly when serving the needs of the retail sector. The low levels of rail connection for potential customers can be explained by the two principal factors: (1) the severance of many businesses from the rail system resulting from the rationalisations of the 1960-90 period; (2) the location of new business enterprises on motorway access points and away from the rail network. The net result is the costly and time consuming transhipment of freight from road at the nearest railhead.

The distance factor also militates against rail. It has long been regarded that railfreight's high fixed cost burden in terminal and infrastructure costs would preclude short distance freight movement (Nash p.258). The poor perception of railfreight service levels is another obstacle to freight transfer. The historic image of under invested, bureaucratic and unreliable freight services has prevailed in the minds of many potential users. Finally, the priority given to passenger services invariably reduced the point to point timings of freight trains and in many cases limits freight pathways to overnight slots. Recent increases in passenger-kilometre movements and the dedication of fast lines to incipient high speed services such as the 225 kph Virgin Tilt Trains, will serve to increase the difficulties of freight diagramming.

In considering the prospects for extending railfreight linkages with the ports, then, it is apparent that considerable opportunity exists but also that many obstacles have to be overcome. This paper now goes onto discuss the evidence and issues of a rail renaissance in the port trades.


The context for this research is made up from a number of fast moving changes that are affecting both the ports and the inland shipping sectors. After years of decline in the UK railfreight industry, the impact of deregulation, privatisation and the emergence of entrepreneurial, customer focused, operators has enlivened the scene. This has registered in several ways. Considerable investment in traction and rolling stock has been undertaken by the two main operators, EWS and Freightliner. Labour productivity and empowerment has increased. New services have developed; and, importantly, a number of UK ports have had their severed rail linkages restored. EWS has enjoyed considerable success in extending its wagonload, Enterprise service, which provides customers with a network of overnight routes. The deepsea ports of Southampton, Felixstowe and Thamesport and the predominantly shortsea ports - Purfleet, Harwich, Goole, Immingham and Hull - have induced EWS Enterprise services to a wide range of destinations (Lloyd's List 14.10.99). The UK experience has considerable implications for Continental operators embarking on various types of de-regulation and privatisation.

In the ports' industry similar pattern of de-regulation and privatisation have brought radical changes and served to accelerate competition. Increasingly ports are seeking to market a range of services to their customers. In recent years the rail linkages have been heralded as a major asset in the service portfolio of ports. Additionally expansion programmes in growing ports have focused attention on the railfreight option as a way of limiting the extra road haulage journeys. The massive dredging and container key expansion at Felixstowe has been accompanied by a £5.6m expansion to the Port's Northern Rail Terminal, providing for a 50 percent increase in container capacity by rail (Lloyd's List 19.3.99). The controversial proposal for a new, New Forest Rim, deep water container in Southampton has placed significant emphasis on railfreight linkages to Central and Northern England and Scotland. Huge container handling development plans in Antwerp, involving new terminals and a deepening of the River Schelde, are being pursued in conjunction with the new rail link, "Iron Rhine," to Duisburg. (Lloyd's List. 15.5.00).

Changes in shipping, particularly, the scale of organisation, in the 1990s has significant implications for the railfreight imperative. In the liner sector the mid-late 1990s have brought a series of mergers and takeovers. These include P&O-Nedlloyd, American President Lines (APL) - Neptune Orient Line (NOL), Maersk-Sealand and Canadian Pacifics buy-out of both Cast Line and Lykes Lines in the container sectors. In the deepsea ro-ro trades, Norway's Wilhelmsen Line and Sweden's, Wallenius Line, have joined forces to produce global leadership in vehicle carriage. Such developments are usually followed by a rationalisation of port calls. The Maersk-Sealand partnership and eventual merger led to the designation of the Port of Felixstowe as their sole UK call. Canadian Pacific's buy out of Cast Line saw the re-location of Cast's weekly North America service from Zeebrugge to Antwerp, much to the chagrin of port officials in the former! Additionally, the North Europe-Far East container service has witnessed a jump in container ship sizes from the 4000 teu panamax to the 5000-7000 teu post-panamax vessel. In the deepsea coal trades the enduring recession in freight rates has instigated the search for the lower tonne-nautical mile costs of larger bulk vessels. This necessitates an increase in vessel size from the 65,000 deadweight tonne panamax size to the >180,000 deadweight tonne cape size vessel.

The large cargo volumes resulting from these changes should prove conducive to the rail option as it increases the likelihood of increased rail competitiveness. For example, the Southampton call of P&O-Nedlloyd's post-panamax "Southampton Class" vessels generates a box exchange in excess of 3000 teu. The concentration of cape size coal shipments on Clyde Port's, Hunterston Terminal, generates considerable tonne-km rail demand for movements to English power stations.


Discussion on rail revival needs to give some attention to the serious decline of European railfreight in the post 1960s period, particularly in the UK. A number of changes in the structure of industry in Europe are most apparent as catalysts for decline. The run down of the staple coal and steel industries, accompanied by rationalisations in petro-chemicals, has reduced the traditional bulk flow which had proved conducive to rail. In addition, under-investment has led to shortages of traction and rolling stock and has prevented the necessary modernisation of the essentially 19th century infrastructure. In addition, poor labour relations and a bureaucratic management and organisational structure has proved an encumbrance to efficient customer focused services. Train crew productivity suffered as a consequence. One particularly acute example of this was provided by the Southampton-Leeds Freightliner maritime service which required five sets of train crew to complete its 400 km journey!

The withdrawal of wagon load traffics, followed by the uncertainties of the run up to privatisation, has also led to traffic loss. EWS president, Ed Burkhart, has not resisted from criticising the "scorched earth policy" of British Rail's freight management in the immediate post privatisation period. It is apparent that the commercial policy was to concentrate on exclusively on the most lucrative, high volume, block train movements. The 40 percent hike in Trainload Freight's charges for steel movements from the Port of Boston in 1993 left little option to switching to road and severing the rail connection (Track Today 13.8.97). As a consequence, at least an extra 8000 lorry journeys between the West Midlands and the Lincolnshire port were generated. Another failure in the port trades was the inability of rail, Freightliner in particular, to respond to the increase in container sizes in the deepsea container trades. The replacement of the 8 ft 6ins and 9 ft 6 ins boxes by the "high cube" 9 ft 6 ins in the deepsea trades precluded the use of rail for UK distribution. This was due to the loading gauge limitations of the network, prior to the recent arrival of low platform wagons.

In growth areas where rail could have expected to prove competitive with rail such as the long distance movements of containers, rail performance had proved disappointing largely due to high terminal costs (McKinnon pp.167-8).


Writing at the end the century, it is apparent that the years of atrophy and decline are at last in reverse. The combined forces of deregulation, privatisation and environmental concern appear to generating a new rail imperative. This can be observed in a number of examples, including:

  • investment in new traction and rolling stock;
  • reinstatement of track linkages into ports;
  • the return of wagon load traffics.

The net result has been a growth in rail tonne-km movements and some examples of freight transfer from road. Port traffics have been a particular feature of this revival. Significant investment by the new freight companies has helped secure existing core freights such as steel. EWS' reopening of the York rolling stock works allowed for the rapid delivery of steel carrying Thrall wagons. The new wave of low platform container wagons has allowed for Freightliner and EWS to win high cube box maritime trade. By late 1999, Freightliner had taken delivery of 200 low platform wagons and EWS was reported to have had 980 wagons close to delivery (Lloyd's List 14.10.99). The traction shortage has been addressed by the arrival of imported General Motors locomotives and the re-conditioning and up-grading of existing engines.

The reinstatement of rail linkages into ports has been a particular feature of EWS' expansion strategy. In the three decades up to the mid-1990's port linkages were consistently run down and withdrawn. Busy East Coast ports including, Hull, Grinsby, Goole, Ipswich and Boston, and Purfleet, and Chatham on the Medway lost their direct rail links.


The research now pursues a case study approach. Four UK ports have been selected - Boston, Felixstowe, Harwich, Southampton. All four have witnessed significant rail revival in recent years. The aim of the investigation here is to establish the principal forces driving these developments. Consideration has been given in particular to:

  • Traffic Demand Factors;
  • Distance Factors;
  • Road Alternatives.

The quantitative factors in traffic demand are considered. These include the frequency and volume of flows and comparative pricing between transport modes. Attention is given to main qualitative concerns of the freight shipper - reliability, timekeeping, security, flexibility, handling.

Distance factors, in conjunction with volumes are examined in order to consider the critical mix of tonne-kms necessary for rail to exert competitive advantage.

Finally, the "litmus test" of the rail imperative rests with the challenge it presents to road haulage.

5.1 Boston's Steel Trade

The Lincolnshire up-river port, Boston, markets itself as the provider of the nearest East Coast ship discharge to the Birmingham and West Midlands industrial region. Primarily, the trade is European shortsea and reflects East Anglia's agricultural base.

The steel business is a result of the re-organisation, integration and rationalisation of European production sites. The selective run down of UK steel production during the 1980s placed emphasis on imports from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. competition for the handling of steel coils - bound for the automotive and metal fabrication industries of the West Midlands - is considerable, totalling at least ten ports. Included are the Humber and Trent ports, the East Anglia ports, Kings Lynn, Ipswich and even the South Coast ports, Shoreham and Poole, all vying for the business. Although cost competition is at a premium in the steel trade, quality factors are also paramount in the handling, transportation and storage

The withdrawal of railfreight facilities in 1993 can now be seen as a result of the uncertainties of the privatisation period. However, a number of demand and supply factors in favour of rail's return in the mid-late 1990s converged. These included (1) the preference of the West Midland's steel stockists for trainload deliveries of steel, approximating 1000 tonnes net; (2) the enduring energy of the port management in traversing the prolonged, complex and cumbersome planning processes, in order to attain the logistical and environmental benefits of rail; (3) the emergence of a business led culture in railfreight following the US railroad corporation, Wisconsin Central's setting up of EWS in order to takeover British Rail's railfreight companies; (4) finally, the provision of Freight Facilities Grants(FFG) to assist with the specialist handling and storage equipment at both ends of the rail journey and a Track Access Grant, proved an inducement to freight transfer to rail. Despite the considerable pressure exerted by these forces for a return to rail in the port it took over three years to get the trains running! Additionally, during this prolonged planning period, it was necessary for the local council to act rapidly to prohibit the selling off of an essential component of the rail linkage to a supermarket chain!

The distances involved are on the low side of orthodox rail threshold being in the 140-170 kms range. The bulk flows, however, compensate somewhat: vessels arrive with between 2000 and 4000 tonnes of steel. This proves conducive to rail haulage, providing for at least three services per week.

The early experience of Boston's rail mission was marred somewhat by intensive road competition, with haulage rates reported to be falling by up to £1.50 per tonne (Lloyd's List 16.10.97). However, local haulage rates fluctuate in accordance with the seasonal demands of the regions agricultural trades. This provides some advantage to the rail carrier, EWS, given their ability to offer a more stable rate over longer periods of time.

The signs in mid-late 1999 were that both sea and rail steel carriage were about to increase significantly at Boston.

5.2 Felixstowe's Rail Expansion

The Suffolk port is the UKs leading deepsea container handling facility. Recent years have brought a significant increase in the boxes moved by rail. Figure One shows the 64 percent increase in Felixstowe boxes moving by rail in the five year period up to 1998. Additionally, rail has been able to increase its share of the port's UK traffic from 15 to 20 percent in this period (Hutchinson Whampoa Ports).

The problems of growth facing the principal rail operator in the port, Freightliner, has been track capacity, particularly on the single line branch line from Ipswich. Recent layout up-grading by Railtrack has improved the situation by the construction of a passing loop. Together with the opening of the port's £5.6m Northern Rail Terminal, the track improvements have increased (theoretically) train capacity from 24 to 32 per day (Modern Railways April 1999). The expansion of railfreight was implicit in the 1998 five year partnership agreement between the Port's owners, Hutchinson Whampoa and Freightliner (Lloyd's List 27.4.98). This complemented the large expansion in deepwater handling capacity. The considerable environmental issues of quayside expansion and dredging, have placed a premium on the port's green profile. The expansion necessary to increase capacity and to accommodate the new generations of post-panamax container ships involved expensive environmental mitigation. The port's Harbour Authority, Harwich Haven, has sought to off-set the negative impact of development with environmental management projects in excess of £10m at 1988 prices (John). From this perspective, the port's commitment to rail expansion can be seen as having "green" as well as logistical benefits. With an estimated 3-4000 container movements by road per day, freight transfer to rail achieves enhanced strategic importance for Felixstowe.

Freightliner are currently operating around 26 trains per day to 11 locations - Birmingham, Cardiff, Crewe, Daventry, Doncaster, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool (2 railheads), Manchester, Tees. Distances vary to between 225kms to Birmingham and 800kms to Glasgow. Daily freight flows are primarily deepsea traffics. In addition, EWS have recently started a container service which will integrate Felixstowe with the Enterprise network (Lloyd's List 14.10.99).

Explanation of Felixstowe's rail expansion can be seen partly as a result of the upsurge in deepsea boxes handled. Between 1994 and 1998 UK destination containers grew by 22 percent. The 64 percent growth in rail-borne boxes represents a shift from road to rail and requires further consideration. The four principal reasons are: (1) the commitment of the port to rail, apparent in the £5.6m railhead investment; (2) the support of Government with its Freight Facility Grant (£1.8m contribution to the port's £5.6m investment); (3) the commitment of Railtrack to up-grading the Felixstowe branch; (4) the entrepreneurial

stance of Freightliner in winning the custom of the deepsea operators by a mix of pricing and quality factors, including investment in rolling stock and traction.

The predictions of a further growth (10 percent) in 1999 points to a sustained and robust rail revival. However, this must be measured by a number of structural restraints. The EWS decision to load Felixstowe traffics in the Port of Ipswich involves a costly 20 minute road journey leg for the new service. Moreover, this points to the limited capacity of the Felixstowe branch. The routing of the majority of northbound Freightliner services via London, in order to benefit from 9 ft 6 in loading gauge, places and additional 180 kms on the journey and faces the capacity limitations of the West Coast Main Line (WCML). Business consternation over the impact of the imminent WCML up-grade on Freightliner services is evident.

5.3 Harwich's Inter-modal Venture

Harwich's history is very much that of a railway port. As the ferry terminal for the Great Eastern Railway's passenger and freight services to the Benelux countries, the port's fate has invariably intertwined with the rail interest. British Rail's innovatory intermodal service in 1968 proved to be an early example of railsea logistics in the shortsea trades. As the service provider between Ford's Dagenham and mainland European plants, British Rail achieved a market leader status in fully cellular container shipping in the shortsea trades. Unfortunately, for the port, the trade easily leant itself to transfer to the Channel Tunnel; as a consequence, railfreight services were withdrawn in 1994.

The return to rail in 1997 was something of a shock in that it offered a lo-lo route to Zeebrugge as an alternative to Channel Tunnel intermodal services. The dynamics of rail's return to Harwich can be seen as the result of four factors: (1) the desire of shippers to link UK freight flows with continental services from Zeebrugge to Central and Southern Europe; (2) the quest by shippers for both a quality and a cost competitive alternative to the premium tariffs of the Channel Tunnel; (3) the participation of road hauliers in the service; (4) the considerable intermodal expertise that the port has accumulated, providing for optimum efficiency in railsea integration; (5) finally, the willingness of EWS to invest in new traction and rolling stock on the routes.

Rail Haulage distances in the UK are in the 400-600 kms range. The daily link with Doncaster combines with EWS services to Teesport, an important source of chemical traffics. The Harwich-Wembley service offers connections to Newport and Widnes and the Seaforth container terminal in Liverpool. The Widnes link features a collaboration with a local haulier and has led to the opening of an international terminal, supported by a Freight Facility Grant. The 44 tonne dispensation for road-rail interchange and the strategy to minimise the road trunking of hazardous goods has proved attractive to chemical shippers in the Widnes-Runcorn industrial region. The new delivery of EWS' low platform megafret wagons has helped boost services by allowing for the unhindered carriage of 9 ft 6 in containers.

The regular flow of traffics is balanced by the foodstuffs moving North from Milan with chemicals moving South from the UK's Merseyside and Teeside industrial regions. Essentially, the UK rail operation is the result of the astute combination of regular traffic flows and the highly efficient Stena Line nightly container service carried out by the 200 teu sister vessels, Hera and Apus. The integration with road haulage operations in the Widnes area and the custom generated by P&O Ferrymasters has enhanced co-operation rather than competition with hauliers.

5.4 Southampton Rail Revival in a Traditional Railway Port

The port of Southampton can claim to be the textbook railway port. Its current quayside layout resulted originally from 19th Century investments by the London and South Western Railway Co, and the large inter-war constructions of the Southern Railway. The port is served by two Freightliner terminals, Millbrook and Maritime. Additionally, both the Eastern and Western Docks are served by rail offering close to quayside linkages. . Southampton is also the UK's number one port for automobile shipments. Substantial railhead investment by the distributors of Ford and Rover automobiles has been undertaken recently, with rail being used to integrate with Southampton's network of ro-ro liner services (Lloyd's List 25.10.99). Southampton is the UK's major port for Far East container services, of which P&O-Nedlloyd are a principal carrier The influence of the Anglo-Dutch line is also evident in the part ownership of Southampton Container Terminals (SCT), shared with Associated British Ports (ABP). The P&O-Nedlloyd connection is also critical to the rail imperative, with 55 percent of the shipping line's inland freight moved by rail (Lloyd's List 26.8.98) and over half of Southampton's 26 Freightliner services running as P&O-Nedlloyd block trains. This factor, coupled with the port's historic rail links has provided for in excess of 30 percent of container movements by rail, the highest level of all UK ports. As with Felixstowe's container services, Southampton's growth in recent years

has been dramatic. Figure Two shows a 35 percent increase in containers by rail, between 1996 and 1998 and almost a doubling by predicted by 2001. In addition to the Freightliner services , the port also has up to six trains per day providing direct quayside access these have to share track capacity with Ocean Liner passenger services that provide direct services to such liners as the QE.2 and Oriana. EWS run a mixture of automobile, bulk and container trains with the latter being linked with the Enterprise network offering national coverage between Plymouth and Inverness. (Lloyd's List 14.10.99). Again, the growth has been significant considering that in the early 1990s the disruption of privatisation, accompanied by a sudden large increase in track access charges, looked certain to bring a severance with the South Western mainline. A recent Lloyd's List market report praised the port's commitment to rail:

Southampton port has been vindicated in its decision over the years to maintain and nurture its rail links, in the interests of providing its clients with the widest transport options, to the extent that it rates today as a substantial rail freight hub (Lloyd's List 25.10.99).

Container rail flows are predominantly in excess of 300kms. However, one exception is provided by Freightliner's shortest service, Southampton-Barking (160 kms), which operates on a daily basis. This has proved to be a blueprint for other relatively short distance services: Southampton-Cardiff (190 kms) and Tilbury-Daventry (160 kms). The strategy here is for the daytime utilisation of the traction and rolling stock for the shorter routes, allowing them to be slotted in between the long distance overnight services. Other newly won freight services operating relatively short distances, <200kms include stone and gypsum flows. It is apparent that direct rail linkages were a key factor in Southampton winning these bulk traffics.

Looming large in the controversial plans to extend container operations on the New Forest side of the port - Dibden Bay - is the question of inland transport. Rail, along with coastal shipping, has been given an important role in the debate, given its ability to move large volumes at low environmental cost vis-à-vis road haulage. The plans of Associated British Port's (ABP) are for a twelve track rail siding which will connect, via the Fawley branch line, to the main South Western mainline. The ABP position was stated clearly in their 1997 Dibden update press release:

Putting freight onto rail as a method of reducing congestion on Britain's roads is an important objective for Government and County Council and ABP is working hard with Railtrack to ensure the maximum use of rail as a freight transport mode for Dibden Bay (ABP).

The growth in Southampton freight by rail is a result of three key factors: (1) the heavy commitment of P&O-Nedlloyd to rail; (2) the port's desire to promote the environmental and logistical advantages of rail; (3) the ability of EWS and Freightliner to offer a cost competitive and quality alternative to road haulage, even over short distances.

Road haulage competition in the container and automobile trades is considerable. However, the ability of the rail carriers to achieve a high level of loading capacity has provided for rail's competitive edge. As with Felixstowe, track capacity issues are of some concern. The South West mainline supports an intensive passenger train schedule, including, a London shuttle service (4 trains per hour in each direction), cross country and local stopping services. This places a premium on track space. Freight services to Birmingham and points North also face congestion on the Great Western mainline in the Reading area.


The initial findings of this study are that the upsurge in UK railfreight linkages with ports points not only to the under achievement of the mode's potential prior to the mid 1990s but also to the convergence of a number of favourable factors. These include customer preference for rail, the active support of port management and a new surge of railfreight enterprise and investment. The commitment of government, supported by its financial packages, has helped to raise the "green" profile of rail. A culmination of these factors have allowed for rail to compete on cost and quality over shorter distances and in accordance with the just-in-time restraints of modern logistics.
The experience of Boston's steel trade demonstrates, despite the relatively short distances involved, the capability of rail to move large volumes in order to meet the customer's preferences. In doing so considerable alleviation of road traffic on Lincolnshire roads is achieved. Harwich's return to rail demonstrates the potential for intermodal activities, given efficient planning and co-ordination. The story from Felixstowe and Southampton is that rail is becoming increasingly integral to both the large volumes involved and the contested environmental issues of port expansion. The scheduled co-ordination of rolling stock utilisation between long and short distances is allowing for full utilisation of assets and allowing rail to compete within the 160 km threshold.

Attention to achieving full capacity loadings and maximum utilisation of traction, rolling stock and train crews appears to be a key component of the rail revival. EWS' Enterprise network has the additional task of combining wagon load traffics with freight flows. Ports that support regular flows are particularly suitable for this service.

The poor perception of rail services is now eroding, however, the freight companies still have much to do in convincing customers that rail is the best linkage to the port. It appears that many of the globalised players in deepsea shipping remain to be convinced of the ability of rail to provide quality services and on-line information of freight movements. However, the service improvements at Freightliner and EWS will go some way to rectifying rail's poor perception.

Considerable obstacles will need to be overcome if the rail renaissance is to continue. Mostly, the problem will be one of the track capacity to sustain this growth.

The implications of railfreight revival in the UK ports trades has implications for continental Europe. With Europe's ports and railways on the verge of deregulation the UK experience has much to offer. Similarly, the experience of European railways in intermodal freight has much to offer the UK port and rail companies. The second part of this research programme will focus on comparison with such ports as Duisburg, Bremerhaven, Le Havre, Zeebrugge. Challenging new rail-port projects such as the "Iron Rhine" linkage between Antwerp and Duisburg point to a rebirth of the rail system. It is apparent that rail has been something of a sleeping giant in recent decades; ultimately, the challenge to realise its potential in the ports' trades rests with the European rail industry, how it is managed and how it performs.


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JOHN, S "The Harwich Haven Approach, Channel Deepening - Good Environment al Value?" A paper given to the International Navigation Association Conference, Investing in the Environment - Value for Money? Institute of Civil Engineers, London. 21.10.99.

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Lloyd's List. 14.10.99. "EWS extends port network," p.3.

Lloyd's List 25.10.99. "Southampton deal with Ford strengthens its role as inward hub," p.9.

Lloyd's List. 15.5.00. "Scheldte deepening is the priority." p.11.

McKINNON,A.C. Physical Distribution Systems London: Routledge.

Modern Railways April 1999. " Felixstowe Upgrade," pp.244-6.

NASH,C. (1985) "European railway comparisons - what can we learn?" in BUTTON,K.J. and PITFIELD,D.E. International Railway Economics: Studies in Management and Efficiency Gower: Aldershot p.258.

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WORSFORD,F. and BLAIR,B. (1996) Freight Transport and the Environment: the British Distribution Industry's Response to the Environmental Challenge London: British Library. pp.27-8.

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