Passenger trains could be blocked to give priority to freight during strikes

Passenger trains could be blocked from station platforms by parked freight services during strikes, an industry leader has warned.



Passenger trains could be blocked from station platforms by parked freight services during strikes, an industry leader has warned (Chris Gibson/Alamy Stock Photo/PA)


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Passenger trains could be blocked from station platforms by parked freight services during strikes, an industry leader has warned (Chris Gibson/Alamy Stock Photo/PA)

John Smith, managing director of GB Railfreight, told the PA news agency that the measure could be necessary if a skeletal timetable is implemented during industrial action.

Concerns have been expressed that the staff walkouts could lead to the closure of much of the rail network, affecting the supply of petrol and diesel and the delivery of goods to stores.

Union leaders will decide next week when to call strikes after workers overwhelmingly backed industrial action over jobs, wages and conditions.

Freight trains will have to be parked at stations

John Smith, GB Railfreight

On Tuesday, Transport Minister Baroness Vere said it was “very important that we try to prioritize rail freight wherever we can because it is very important for supply chains”.

Freight operators are talking to Network Rail about the impact of its flagmen’s strikes.

It is possible that around 80% of services will be cut, with trains running only part of the day and only on the main lines.

Mr Smith, who chairs the freight committee at industry body Rail Delivery Group, said: ‘If we only run 12 hours (a day), we will have to park freight trains at stations until the next 12 A period of one hour presents itself and we can start moving again.

“We have trains that (currently) run 24 hours a day.

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“One of the main problems we have with a 12-hour timetable is that our trains often only make one rotation a day around the 24-hour clock, to load them, get to where they’re going, unload them and bring them back.

“If the railway is only open (for) 12 hours, then they’re only halfway there or they’re stuck in the middle of nowhere.

“Priorising rail freight in a strike would essentially be saying ‘You can’t run your passenger train, we’re going to have to park on this station platform.’

“That remains to be seen. We are in discussions with Network Rail about what a timetable looks like and how it might work.

Mr Smith predicted disruption to fuel supplies and the transport of goods arriving at ports will be what ‘the man in the street will start to see first’ in the wake of the strikes.

He said freight trains deliver most of the road fuel in the Midlands, so industrial action could lead to a shortage of petrol and diesel in some of the area’s forecourts, which “quickly leads to panic buying”.

But his “greatest fear” is that the threat of strikes could persuade companies to delay switching goods from road to rail as part of decarbonisation efforts.

He said some business leaders might think “now is not the time” to invest in rail freight infrastructure, saying railways are “not a reliable supply chain” in reason for potential walkouts.

Members of Network Rail’s Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and 13 rail operators overwhelmingly backed industrial action in a ballot.

The union will have to give two weeks’ notice of the strike, which could start in mid-June.

The government and rail companies slammed the move, calling it “hugely disappointing and premature”, and warning that the action could affect the rail industry’s recovery from the damage caused by the coronavirus.

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