Ministers have announced that a much-delayed £17m scheme to upgrade freight services around Southampton will go ahead.
Despite being labelled 'additional' cash by the Department for Transport in its announcement, the project was originally part of Network Rail’s last five-year plan.
The upgrade increases the length of freight services able to operate in the Southampton area from 520 metres to 775 metres, ‘significantly increasing capacity and allowing an additional seven trailers to be transported on a single service’, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.
Officials said the upgrade would ‘support the seamless flow of goods across the country and strengthen links into Southampton’s docks’.
The DfT told Transport Network that the work comes under Network Rail’s Control Period 6 (CP6), which began in April 2019. However, it was due to take place under the previous Control Period (CP5) but was postponed as part of the 2015 Hendy review.
Network Rail’s March 2014 CP5 Enhancements Delivery Plan (EDP) states: ‘During CP5 a number of schemes that commenced in CP4 will be completed. These include Southampton to West Coast Main Line train lengthening programme […].
‘The purpose of the Southampton to West Coast Main Line train lengthening programme is to allow 775m train lengths for intermodal services from the Port of Southampton to the West Midlands and West Coast Main Line.’
Under new arrangements for CP6, only enhancement projects that have been approved for delivery by the DfT and Network Rail on a case-by-case basis are included in the current EDP.
Network Rail completed stage 1 of the project – lengthening sidings in the area – in April. The current works, representing the final stage of the project were approved by Network Rail and the DfT in July. They involve modifying some sections of track and switches and crossings, followed by the commissioning of a new signalling system.
The DfT said the new works will boost the country’s second-busiest container port, increasing the volume of goods transported to and from the Midlands and reducing reliance on road traffic.
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: ‘The injection of funding into the expansion of freight capacity will have a profound effect. Not only will this lead to a greener and more cost-efficient way to transport freight from Southampton, but the economic benefits will also be substantial.
‘Our freight industry has played an integral role through this pandemic, helping keep this country moving, and this investment will ensure it continues to support our economic recovery.’
According to the Network Rail website, the work began last month and will continue until February 2021.
Last month, Welsh Government transport minister Ken Skates criticised UK ministers for claims about ‘investment’ country’s railways, including the £76m for cost-overruns on the south Wales mainline electrification programme.