Improved infrastructure to UK ports is essential

Inadequate infrastructure connecting UK ports and the wider UK is putting a brake on the development and expansion of ports, our Port Development Conference has heard.

Poor transport access to the south of England’s ports could result in freight being diverted to less congested part of the country. Ports in the north of England aspire to secure a bigger slice of the market, said British Port Association’s (BPA) Ballantyne: “If congestion in the south gets even worse, operators will start looking at other options.”

Research by the UKMPG estimates £14bn of constrained value exists in the core freight network, said Morris: “There’s a lot of value to be unlocked by better optimisation.”

Much could be improved by relatively minor investments such as relieving bottlenecks on key road routes, said BPA’s Ballantyne: “If you look at road transport investment we lag behind our competitors. We have a good road network at 3am but at 3pm it’s significantly different.”

However, DP World’s Orbell warned that building new roads is not the answer to relieving congestion on the existing network. He said that improving the efficiency of the rail freight network would have knock on benefits in terms of reduced congestion on the roads.

Average freight speeds of 35 mph, which understandably will be frustrating for the passenger services that they get caught behind, could be improved: “The rail industry could undertake significant improvements with digital signalling that would speed up the whole network. Digital signalling could improve speeds to 50 to 60 mph. The network gets that much faster and you can get more on the system.”

An example of this interplay can be seen around Bristol where the push to boost local passenger rail services could have knock on impacts on the network’s ability to service the port, said Chaplin: “The priority on using rail for passengers will have an impact. If freight gets displaced onto roads that will compound congestion.”

Report from the Ports Development Conference by Built Environment Networking website

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