How the West Midlands Interchange is contributing to the UK’s Rail Freight Strategy

20 October 2023

What is the West Midlands Interchange?

The West Midlands Interchange (WMI) is a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI.) When complete, WMI will help the country  achieve its strategic objectives for rail freight. WMI will be an intermodal freight terminal with direct connections to the West Coast Main Line, capable of accommodating up to 10 freight trains per day. It will also be connected to the M6 and A5 roads, providing lorries with access to Birmingham, Wolverhampton and the wider West Midlands region. With each freight train capable of removing between 43 and 76 HGVs from the road, WMI will reduce road congestion and transport related emissions, contributing towards  Net Zero and sustainability goals.


What are Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges, and why are they important?


An SRFI is a large-scale freight and logistics hub, which is connected to both rail and the highway network. The purpose of an SRFI is to maximise the use of rail in the transportation of goods. SRFIs are key to reducing carbon emissions from transporting moving, as well as reducing the cost of transportation and increasing the efficiency and speed in which goods are delivered.


The rail freight industry is keen to promote these benefits. The Rail Delivery Group’s Value of Rail Freight report , published in 2021, shows rail freight reduces emissions by 76% compared to road transport, equating to 1.4million tonnes of Co2 emissions saved per year. Research also commissioned by the Rail Delivery Group shows that in 2018/19, rail freight contributed £2.45bn to the UK economy, with benefits dispersed from the South of England through the industrial Heartland of the Midlands and beyond.


The Government concurs with the Rail Delivery Group on the importance of rail freight. The Department for Transport (DfT) has outlined several reasons why rail freight capacity out to be increased:


  • Maintaining network performance and meeting customer needs (for example, delays, congestion and network reliability)
  • Supporting economic growth
  • Ensuring resilience in networks (including adapting to climate change and technological changes)
  • Supporting the government’s environment and net zero priorities
  • Maintaining and enhancing the safety of national networks


In May 2021, the DfT published the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail. This strategy document details a commitment from Government to promote rail freight: “Great British Railways will also have a statutory duty to promote rail freight to secure economic, environmental and social benefits” for the UK and “support the growth of the rail freight market”.

There are currently 11 SRFIs operating in the UK. A further 5 have been granted planning permission, including WMI, and a further 4 are proposed.  The majority of the UK SRFIs are located in the M1 corridor up the spine of the UK. Outliers include the operational SRFI in Widnes near Liverpool, and consented schemes in Radlett near London, Bristol, and Manchester.


However, if the Government wishes to increase rail freight capacity, not only will there need to be more capacity for freight trains on the rail network, SRFIs will be needed to store goods delivered by freight trains and allow lorries to deliver goods to their destination.


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