Passenger demand is not the only threat to capacity on the West Coast Main Line, or indeed the national north-south networks, which are also crucial for transporting freight.
Forecasts of rail freight growth produced by the Rail Freight Group (RFG) in its submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group for High Speed Rail in March 2012 expect volumes to continue increasing. By 2030, overall volumes are expected to be around 120% of current levels, growing at a rate of 3.3% year-on-year.
Only a new line can offer the capacity needed to meet long rising trends of increased demand for long distance rail, freight and commuting. Without it, the West Coast Main Line, East Coast and Midland Main Lines will become severely congested, holding back the wider economy.
Traditionally, freight traffic was concentrated between industrial facilities. Now, major conurbations such as Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds are freight terminals – meaning that route demands have moved away from less well-used rural or freight only lines to focus on the major north-south arteries in the UK.
Did You Know? The West Coast Main Line is the busiest mixed-use railway in Europe, used by 12 different operators and carrying a quarter of all UK rail freight.
This makes freight lines even more crowded and has already led to the development of diversionary routes for some freight traffic. Longer trains have been introduced to carry larger loads and there are already additional services at weekends. Attempts are also being made to use existing paths more effectively. But even with such measures, the existing railway is unlikely to be able to accommodate all future growth requirements.
In the long term, we support the development of new capacity on HS2 and the capacity that will be released on the conventional network.
Though rail freight will not use HS2 directly, the capacity released by migration of passengers onto a new high speed line would at least mean more rail freight can be moved on the major north-south routes (and the WCML in particular).