A MASSIVE retail import centre planned for Tees Dock could be used by Tesco, it was revealed this week.
If given the go-ahead early next year, Tesco would join Asda Walmart, which already operates a 360,000sq ft centre from the dock, signalling a significant shift in the UK grocery trade’s distribution patterns, tipping the balance from south to north and saving millions of road miles every year.
The £50m Tesco shed, which is almost four times the size of Asda’s, is likely to trigger a £10m-£20m upgrade of the freight rail link between the port and the east coast mainline, with potentially massive future investment from the Government in improvements to the York to Scotland section of the former GNER track.
PD Ports group director Martyn Pellew, said: “The new rail terminal would be at the eastern side of the complex, behind and next door to the Tesco import centre.
“The line has the capacity for extra trains - we want an extra 10 movements a day. The problem is that, at the moment, the track only handles the old 8ft 6in high containers and the new ones are 9ft 6in, which means either lowering the track or heightening the bridges.
“If we don’t get a gauge enhancement, the only alternative is to use special wagons with a low platform on which to put the boxes, but you don’t get a very good payload, which is not as cost effective.”
A study by PD Ports and Network Rail as part of the Northern Gateway project is due out in February.
“It will cost somewhere between £10m and £20m to get as far as the East Coast Main Line,” said Mr Pellew. “What we do not know yet is the cost beyond that. That’s a cost we believe central government should pick up because it’s in the interest of the whole country that the East Coast Main Line should be able to handle container and freight movements.
“If anything happens to the West Coast Main Line, as it did last spring when there was an accident, there’s no way of getting freight to and from Scotland.”
Tesco has taken the lead in switching goods from truck to train and even barge. Spokeswoman Juliette Bishop said it was “very interested” in the Tees Dock plan, although no contracts had been signed.