Why northern ports must work together to deliver multimodal freight solutions

The future of the nation’s port infrastructure is dependent on building better connectivity. As ports continue to expand to meet the demands of their customers and local economies, more pressure is placed on road and rail. So, there’s work to be done to ensure the UK is best equipped to handle a new era of the logistics industry.  

It’s an important issue, and one that Peel Ports’ Managing Director – Port Logistics Gary Hodgson will be discussing during a panel discussion at Mersey Maritime’s event during London International Shipping Week on 9 September. He’ll be joined by representatives from ABP and P&O Ferries as well as Graham Stuart, MP for Humber. Below, Gary shares some of the points he’ll be raising during the conversation.

Ports across the north have undergone a period of heavy investment in modernising their infrastructure, attracting a higher volume of modern, larger ships carrying bulk and containerised traffic to the region.

While this is welcome news because it’s a healthy indicator for the local and national economy, there are challenges. We have a responsibility as operators to consider a joined-up approach to connectivity beyond the port gates, working together to deliver a multimodal solution to relieve the pressure being put on surrounding road and rail networks due to increased throughput.

For me, rail connectivity is the number one priority. Without a west to east (and vice versa) connection, road will remain the only option for most ports. That isn’t ideal news for other road users or the environment, and it also compromises our ability to offer efficient door-to-door logistic services.

Indeed, although not nearly as bad as the South East, the roads in our region are already overloaded. Transport for the North models forecast an expected 20-30 million tonnes of additional road freight by 2050 – which also raises environmental concerns.

There’s another good reason to reduce the reliance on road. The haulage industry has reported a shortage of 60,000 drivers – a figure that is expected to rise to 70,000 in 2020.

At the moment, the first phase of the Trans Pennine upgrade does not include gauge clearance for freight, which is currently earmarked for phase two of the work. This approach could take up to a decade, not to mention the additional, huge disruption to a line already hampered  by improvement works. If it’s to be done, it must be done as one scheme.

The Rail Freight Group (RFG) recently published its findings on enhancing the Trans Pennine route to include freight, a move supported by shippers, port groups and rail hauliers, who are lobbying for a solution which allows for the growth of freight as well as passenger traffic for a high performing mixed traffic railway.

Looking at freight trends identified in the RFG report, new vessels berthing in northern ports are carrying containers that cannot be accommodated on the UK railway without creating higher and wider loading gauge, strengthening the argument that improvements to the rail network must be made.

We know that current routes can’t cope with the demands of modern freight. If a solution is not provided, we risk jeopardising the ability of northern ports to play their part in our future prosperity.

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