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Freight Containers (Rail Network)

Volume 540: debated on Thursday 23 February 2012

7. What plans she has to ensure the rail network serving ports can carry modern freight containers. (95954)

Our policy is to continue to develop the strategic freight network to drive UK economic growth and support the expansion of our maritime trade.

I welcome the public investment to upgrade the rail connection from Teesport to the east coast main line by the end of this year. However, there is still no suitable east-west rail crossing for modern containers anywhere between the midlands and Scotland. Will the Minister also address that problem?

The Government have a major programme of improving the capacity of our rail network to take freight, particularly the 9 feet 6 inches high cube containers that are such an important a part of international trade. That is why the railway control period up to 2014 will see about £350 million spent on upgrading the network. A crucial part of that is improving links to ports, for example between Southampton and the west coast line and on the Felixstowe-Nuneaton line. That will provide major benefits on carbon emissions, road safety and relieving congestion on our roads.

The hon. Lady will have heard of the proposals being taken forward to improve gauge clearance to Teesport, and we are working on a number of other schemes and projects to improve rail freight connectivity with our major ports. Despite the deficit and the pressing need to reduce spending, our work on the strategic freight network has continued, and we propose to continue it in future.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to quantify what extra capacity there will be for freight transport on the classic rail network following High Speed 2?

HS2 has done some major studies on that. I do not have the numbers in front of me, but it is clear that one of the major benefits of HS2 will be to free up paths on the existing north-south network for freight, and indeed for other passenger services, relieving the current congestion problems.