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Building on rail’s popularity with a multimodal approach

Posted: 17 April 2020 | | No comments yet

Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport, writes that the UK’s transport system is currently failing to deliver a fully integrated network and that rail’s integration with other modes of transport is crucial for unlocking the potential of the country’s passenger and rail freight network.

Building on rail’s popularity with a multimodal approach

With passenger numbers higher than ever, there is a real opportunity to exploit rail’s popularity and ensure door-to-door journeys are not only possible, but are the easy option.

Railways in the UK span the length and breadth of the country, connecting our towns and cities and transporting people and goods. An efficient, fast and environmentally less damaging mode of transport, railway’s success, however, is dependent on its connections to other modes. Few journeys, of people or freight, start and finish with the railway. Passengers need to get to and from a station, and freight must be transported between warehouses and stores. Integration with other modes is vital to the success of the railway, and how rail will continue to be a key element in our country’s transport network, tackling social, environmental and economic issues.

The influence of interchanges

Effective modal interchanges are central to creating efficient, affordable, accessible and comprehensive transport networks. That much of the country lacks such systems is the result of disjointed transport planning and investment.

So, why is it that our transport system fails to deliver a fully integrated network? Planning, operation and investment in individual transport modes is undertaken in isolation. This means much transport planning remains reductive. For example, if there is a budget for roads, then the response to a congested road will be to add more road capacity. It will not, generally, be to identify the wider causes of the congestion, nor to contemplate the best transport solution to resolve it. A principal casualty of the current approach is interchanges. By definition, interchanges require a joined-up approach to transport. Despite some recent attempts at more creative planning, opportunities to link up road and rail infrastructure and services are routinely missed and often undervalued.

Good interchanges can greatly influence the travel choices people make.

Good interchanges can greatly influence the travel choices people make. Existing interchanges have developed for many reasons: to take advantage of co-located transport infrastructure, to make the most efficient use of the available capacity or to support new retail and housing development.

Railways in the UK span the length and breadth of the country, connecting our towns and cities and transporting people and goods. An efficient, fast and environmentally less damaging mode of transport, railway’s success, however, is dependent on its connections to other modes. Few journeys, of people or freight, start and finish with the railway. Passengers need to get to and from a station, and freight must be transported between warehouses and stores. Integration with other modes is vital to the success of the railway, and how rail will continue to be a key element in our country’s transport network, tackling social, environmental and economic issues.

The influence of interchanges

Effective modal interchanges are central to creating efficient, affordable, accessible and comprehensive transport networks. That much of the country lacks such systems is the result of disjointed transport planning and investment.

So, why is it that our transport system fails to deliver a fully integrated network? Planning, operation and investment in individual transport modes is undertaken in isolation. This means much transport planning remains reductive. For example, if there is a budget for roads, then the response to a congested road will be to add more road capacity. It will not, generally, be to identify the wider causes of the congestion, nor to contemplate the best transport solution to resolve it. A principal casualty of the current approach is interchanges. By definition, interchanges require a joined-up approach to transport. Despite some recent attempts at more creative planning, opportunities to link up road and rail infrastructure and services are routinely missed and often undervalued.

Good interchanges can greatly influence the travel choices people make.

Good interchanges can greatly influence the travel choices people make. Existing interchanges have developed for many reasons: to take advantage of co-located transport infrastructure, to make the most efficient use of the available capacity or to support new retail and housing development.

Depending on their location, capacity and design, a good interchange can offer:

  • Links to a wide range of destinations employing several modes, including rail
  • Integrated travel information for ease of use
  • Access to good quality transport services with clear routes between modes
  • Local benefits, such as a more attractive, visited and more accessible public realm.

Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

In addition to these benefits, there are new reasons to focus on multi-modal travel. While currently loosely defined, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) has the potential to transform travel. MaaS foresees a move away from car ownership and towards a model where people purchase a journey by whichever modes are most efficient. Thinking has, so far, focused on the technology needed to achieve this through better planning and autonomous vehicles. If it is to transform how we travel for the better, however, MaaS will need to be supported by greatly improved physical connections between modes.

Clock-face scheduling

One example of how a simple idea can help integrate rail services with other transport modes is the clock-face schedule, or Taktfahrplan, a timetabling system that runs services at consistent intervals with the objective of making schedules simple to memorise and, therefore, more attractive to use. Clock-face timetables can also be attractive to operators by making planning easier. Widely used in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, clock-face schedules give the biggest benefits when they allow coordination across public transport modes. Generally organised around a hub-and-spoke system, transfer distances and waiting times between services can be minimised and journey‑time based tickets employed. In 2015, Network Rail produced its Improving Connectivity report, which applied the principles of a Taktfahrplan approach to rail timetables in eastern England. It identified a core service pattern and investment priorities, but these have yet to be adopted in practice.

There are other examples of good practice; integration of public transport across the county is one of the prime beneficiaries of Cornwall’s devolution agreement, for instance. The deal, agreed with central government in 2015, gives the county greater ability to control its transport services and is worth £126 million. Improvements underway include:

  • Better integration of bus and rail services, with the main rail network becoming a series of hubs for onward travel by bus
  • Development of contactless multimodal ticketing across rail, bus and ferry services
  • A third more rail services stopping at key stations
  • A smartphone journey planner giving details of journey options.

Not forgetting rail freight

It’s not just passenger rail that benefits from good modal integration – rail freight also needs good connections. Getting more freight onto the railway delivers economic, safety and environmental benefits. A single freight train can remove up to 77 HGV journeys from congested strategic roads, making the remaining lorry journeys more reliable.

The Department for Transport’s (DfT) cross modal freight unit was set up in response to its own Ports Connectivity Study of 2018 and the National Infrastructure Commission Study of April 2019, which both recognised that freight needed more government support with a particular emphasis on intermodal solutions.

Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges (SRFIs)

One solution is more Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges (SRFIs) at locations with good road and rail connections. SRFIs are classified as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects under the Planning Act 2008, and the National Networks National Policy Statement (NPS), published in December 2014, sets out the compelling need for more SRFIs due to the limited number of suitable sites available.

SRFIs have the potential to dramatically increase rail freight capacity. The East Midlands Gateway (SLPEMG), a 50-acre site which includes a rail freight terminal capable of handling up to sixteen 775m freight trains per day, container storage and HGV parking, is centrally located in the Midlands next to J24 of the M1 and East Midlands Airport. Nottingham is 13 miles to the north east, Leicester 20 miles to the south and Derby 14 miles to the north west. With storage capacity for approximately 45,000 pallets of cargo and a direct connection to the Castle Donnington freight line via the Rugby loop, the facility provides direct access to the UK’s network of rail freight interchanges, as well as major UK ports, such as Southampton, Felixstowe, London Gateway and the Channel Tunnel.

As road congestion continues to increase, rail’s lower environmental impact, coupled with a growth in rail traffic and industry investment, mean that rail freight can and should play a bigger role in the future movements of goods.

With passenger numbers higher than ever, there is a real opportunity to exploit rail’s popularity and ensure door-to-door journeys are not only possible, but are the easy option. 

Darren Shirley is Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport, a national charity championing affordable transport that improves quality of life and protects the environment. Before joining Campaign for Better Transport in 2018, Darren worked for Which?, leading its regulated and retail markets campaigning. Darren has over 10 years’ experience in the environmental sector having worked for WWF, Greenpeace UK and National Energy Action.

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