Published: 23rd May 2016
Rail Central is the name given to a proposed huge rail-connected freight terminal near Blisworth in Northamptonshire to be opened in 2019. The project is being promoted by Bristol based Ashfield Land who undertook a series of local Consultations in April and May.
The plans show that Rail Central would be rail linked to the Northampton Loop and the West Coast Main Line 125mph ‘Old Road’ just south of the A43 trunk road and two miles away from the M1.
Rail.co.uk spoke to Nick Gallop, Rail Central’s rail consultant who insisted that operational performance issues created by using the 125mph section of railway connecting Rail Central would not preclude express freight services operating and confirmed it was Ashfield Land’s intention to connect into the up and down lines on both routes.
This is given a passing mention in the Government’s rolling stock review published as part of the Queen’s speech on 18 May. Mr Gallop explained it is a concept that would see seats removed from 125mph diesel High Speed Trains (HST) and used as high value lightweight freight carriers when they are replaced by the new Hitachi Inter City Express rains in a few years time.
Mr Gallop said that he has been in touch with rolling stock leasing company Portebrook about this and added that East Midlands Trains and Great Western were already conveying such goods on HSTs. When asked what the Network Rail position on the proposals were, Mr Gallop said the infrastructure company was encouraging them to develop the proposals and to get back to them.”
There is a precedent for these services as in France, some of original TGV trains built in the 1980s have been converted into postal trains and one reached St Pancras on 21 March 2012 carrying a set of sample goods.
Should the Ashfield Land proposals be presented to the authorities for approval, it is highly likely that the passenger train operators, currently Virgin and London Midland, will object on punctuality performance grounds. It takes an HST around two minutes longer to reach the permitted linespeed than existing trains on that route which are likely to impinge on passenger services’ performance on the line in either direction. Network Rail’s capacity planning team will become heavily involved in modelling the effects of such trains when plans are developed.
Mr Gallop added that provision for a rail maintenance depot had been made within Rail Central and that The Royal Train could move there from Wolverton along with Wolverton Works. But when asked what contact there had been with both organisations, he said that as yet there had been no contact.
This was confirmed by Wolverton Works’ operator Knorr-Bremse (KB) on 19 May at a private evening event. KB was expanding by 6% annually at Wolverton and over the last three years they had brought back into use every available workshop to cope with demand. Employment had risen from 125 to over 400 with over 40 rail vehicles being renovated at any one time and they had no plans to relocate.
KB’s landlord St Modwen has applied for permission to build a discount food store on a hectare of land in the Works which will prevent any KB expansion. The design has already been altered once as St Modwen’s plans severed a vital section of track from a shed (used for testing) they say is derelict. St Modwen has also applied for outline permission to demolish 95% of the Works but this plan is now a year behind their published schedule. The conspiracy theorists suggest that Ashfield Land and St Modwen are working in tandem on these plans.
Ashfield Land said that Toton depot near Nottingham could be forced to close because of HS2 so DB Cargo would be looking for another depot with similar facilities which could be Rail Central.
But as ever with such development plans, local objectors are fighting the plans with ‘Stop Rail Central’ leading the fight and say that Ashfield Land’s claims that 8000 jobs could be created is simply not true. They are also asking if a fourth railfreight terminal in the area is really needed. The third Daventry International Railfreight Terminal is under construction - only 20 miles away.
They said: Mark Redding for the Objectors said “The local roads could not cope with the traffic generated by the plans and that many villages would suffer from the 24/7 operation’s noise and pollution.” He also outlined that:
"NNNPS 4.86 SRFIs tend to be large scale commercial operations, which are most likely to need continuous working arrangements (up to 24 hours). By necessity they involve large structures, buildings and the operation of heavy machinery. In terms of location therefore, they often may not be considered suitable adjacent to residential areas".
Mr Redding added : “Rail Central could not be closer to residential properties with some even located right in middle (to be completely surrounded by massive 18 metre high warehousing). The size, scale and nature of such an operation is totally at odds with the surrounding rural environment and those living within it. The development of this rural landscape will forever change the lives of those living within and close by.
It would undoubtedly pave the way for further development on marginalised land and the inevitable decimation of two historic villages and cultures. The quality of life for those living nearby would be devastated and the additional traffic and pollution can never be mitigated despite what "experts" engaged by the developer will forecast within their models.”
NNNPS 5.130 states that "The Secretary of State should also take into account the desirability of new development making a positive contribution to the character and local distinctiveness of the historic environment."
He ended by saying: “This type of development in this environment can never make a positive contribution.”