TRANSPORT is the big issue coming down the tracks for Tees Valley as we enter 2008.
A more integrated strategy and major improvements to the rail network top many of our industry leaders’ wish lists for the Tees Valley on Pages 2 and 3 this week.
But Santa might come earlier than they think with news of a Network Rail project that could transform the future of freight.
It is working on plans for a major upgrade of the freight network, linking Teesport to the East Coast Main Line and beyond.
Last week we revealed PD Ports was lobbying for £10m-£20m of improvements for the Teesport spur line, which would give weight to its bid to bring another massive retail import centre to Redcar dock.
But Network Rail has revealed the Teesport project is just part of a wider package of potential improvements that could transform freight movements and bring a massive boost to businesses across the region.
Earlier this year, the North East Regional Assembly heavily criticised the Network’s blueprint for rail usage, saying its East Coast Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy was a “missed opportunity”.
But planners and forecasters at its North East’s York HQ are now busy looking at moving modern ship-to-rail freight containers all the way from Teesport to the Midlands and Scotland and across the Pennines.
The plan would involve large-scale engineering work, including heightening bridges or lowering lines.
Spokesperson Rachel Lowe said there was no timescale for the project and funding had yet to be put in place, although it might qualify for transport innovation funding from the Department of Transport. It predicts that rail will grow its share of all freight movements in the UK from around 8% to 30% by 2030.
“Even if we were not successful with freight innovation fund money, it doesn’t mean the scheme is dead,” said Ms Lowe.
“There are other pots, including the Regional Development Agency. Private investment could come into it - we won’t turn down money from anyone.”
However, Freight on Rail, a consortium of public and private interests, which believes Teesside is a priority for improvement, warned the work would be too costly for private enterprise to shoulder alone.