Rail freight and water transport offer 'Best Value' options

Road transport's days as king could be numbered, with the immediate prospect of congestion charging in central London and the longer term aim of the Commission for Integrated Transport to drive up the cost of using Britain's highways. These policies will be encouraging for alternative means of transportation, notably rail freight and water borne services. LAWE reports on how these sectors are faring

Passenger rail services may be the millstone around any Transport Minister's neck, but rail freight is providing an example of a reasonably successful service for its customers, particularly in the movement of very large tonnages of waste from urban areas to disposal sites.

Through a series of contracts the rail company moves waste, in containerised loads, for a range of waste companies and local authority based organisations, including GMW, Edinburgh, and the West London WA. Edinburgh's waste is railed to a site at Dunbar, while GMW sends its waste to a site at Roxby Gullet at Scunthorpe with waste from west London being transported from railheads for landfill disposal at sites including Shanks' Calvert facility.

A recently established transfer site in east London is used to rail commercial and trade waste from Bow Midland Waste.
However there is a dearth of sites in south London available as potential waste transfer sites for rail.

One avenue which could be explored is to develop a more extensive network of rail-based waste centres lies in strategic sites which are held by Railtrack for potential development as freight facilities.

Though there are obvious environmental benefits to be gained from shifting waste from road to rail, with economic advantage swinging towards rail freight where movements of 40 miles or more are involved, railway sources point out that there is a fairly long lead time to set up a waste facility with rail access and that long term waste contracts do not come up very often.

EWS cites an example of a client taking the longer term view, where the West London WA agreement has been signed up for another eight years.

The cost of constructing a rail connection for a waste site, including vital signalling, requires a long-term investment. At present, there is an additional handicap to developing rail-side waste facilities, with priority being given within the railway system to resignalling the main rail routes, putting pressure on the availability of scarce equipment.

However, rail transport is playing a significant role in reducing the volume of heavy road trips between waste collection centres and the dwindling numbers of landfill sites across the country and in the south east in particular.

Allied markets
The rail freight option is being used also for a range of materials transport which have environmentally beneficial features both in terms of curbing road vehicle generated pollution and in wider "green" dimensions.

Rail transport has been used in the movement of containerised ash produced by the incineration of livestock culled during the Foot & Mouth Disease epidemic.

Metals scrap is being rail freighted under a deal with a leading metals recovery group and spent ballast from Railtrack operations is railed out with the material representing a "virtual quarry" for potential use in other applications.

Contaminated waste is also transported from brownfield and construction sites.

There will, for example, be an anticipated total of over one million tonnes of material to be removed in the redevelopment of the Kings Cross Channel Tunnel site in London, which is ideally placed for shipping out by rail.

On the aggregates front EWS alone moves 13 million tonnes of materials each year for major producers, including limestone from the Mendips, peak District and Yorkshire Dales, granite from Leicestershire, sea dredged sand and gravel from the Thames Estuary. Aggregate is transported in either hopper or box wagons. These are provided by customers, leasing companies and by EWS.

On the waterfront
Water-borne transport of waste also has an excellent record in the geographically concentrated areas where it is employed.
Cory Environmental operates a fleet of seven tugs and 47 container barges on the Thames which carry 630,000 tonnes of waste from west London and the Corporation of London downriver to the Mucking landfill site in Essex, saving thousands of waste lorry movements each year.

David Riddle, Chief Executive, Cory Environmental told LAWE: "There is tremendous scope to expand the river based operation, but this potential will not be realised unless new riverside waste treatment and disposal facilities are consented and developed within the next few years."

As with rail freight, water-borne transport is an option which should benefit from the application of "Best Value" concepts.


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