Strategic Railfreight Interchange (SRFI)

St Albans Council’s decision to throw in the towel in opposing the Strategic Railfreight Interchange (SRFI) is disappointing but not entirely unexpected. The SRFI became embroiled in the problems over the Local Plan obtaining approval and earlier threats of legal action from the developer, Helioslough. But all is not yet lost? David may have got smaller in the battle with Goliath but should still fight on.

The Railfreight saga has rumbled on since 2006 with the Civic Society joining in with STRIFE and the Council in opposing the plan. It gave evidence at the two Public Inquiries. ‘The Green Belt is safe in our hands’ former Minister Eric Pickles once declared. That turned out to not be the case in 2014 when he gave the go ahead for the land to be used for the SRFI.

Apart from the environmental implications for St Albans, the Society has always questioned the capacity and ability of the railway line (Midland Main Line) to accommodate the proposed long and heavy freightliner trains without adversely affecting the reliable operation of the passenger timetables of both Thameslink and East Midlands Trains services. There are also the necessary infrastructure works needed to enlarge tunnels (like at Elstree and near Kentish Town) and the underpass off a spur from the down slow line so as to access the depot. These questions with detailed answers from Network Rail are still awaited despite St Albans’ previous MP, Anne Main’s persistent attempts to get answers from Network Rail.

It is good that our current MP, Daisy Cooper, is raising the subject in the House of Commons and we urge her to continue pressing Network Rail for some definite answers.

Network Rail is a nationalised organisation and now, as a result of the coronavirus crisis, the Train Operating Companies have effectively been nationalised too. As taxpayers we therefore merit some answers.

Whether the two Government Departments, Planning and Transport, now actually work together to force things through remains to be seen. But the threat to our reliable passenger service remains real. We cannot return to those days of delays and cancellations with passengers packed in like sardines. This is for obvious reasons.

Our County Council should seek answers too before selling the (our) land for something that could affect a key rail artery in Hertfordshire. 

Other questions also arise. As the result of coronavirus, Brexit and the proposed Freeports, do the previous freight distribution routes still apply?

The danger remains that works commence on the depot before answers to all these questions are obtained which results in the freightliner trains not operating and the depot morphing into a juggernaut interchange. It’s happened before elsewhere.

‘David’ needs answers and hasn’t surrendered yet. We fight on!

(August 2020)

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