Friday, 17 September 2010

Old Oak Wharf - a canal freight revival?

Very soon after setting off on our recent epic cruise we passed Old Oak Wharf on the Paddington Branch of the GU.

I thought I'd make some gag about a pile of old oak at the wharf. So there it is.

But there's more to say, even if the only press release (that I could find) from BW is dated December 2006 (and has a quote from Ken Livingstone (remember him?)).

The press release is headed New Wharf Offers Canal Freight Revival and begins:

British Waterways, Transport for London and Powerday plc are urging west London businesses to consider transporting waste by barge on the Grand Union Canal . The move follows the completion of a new wharf at Old Oak Sidings in Willesden Junction to service Powerday's state-of-the-art recycling centre which opens next year. Built by Powerday and funded by Transport for London and British Waterways, the £450,000 wharf is part of a package of measures to revive canal freight on west London 's canals. Studies have indicated that the 26-mile, lock-free stretch of waterway could accommodate 500,000 tonnes of material each year and offer a cleaner and, in some instances, cheaper alternative to road haulage.

I looked up Powerday and found that they are now very much in operation at Old Oak Wharf. According to its easy-to-watch six minute video it has the capacity to process a tenth of London's waste. The website claims "100% waste recovery". But on the film John McKenna, Operations Manager says, more credibly, "At Powerday we strive for maximum recovery, which means little or no waste goes to landfill whatsoever". He guides us through the various stages the waste goes through, and lists the three modes of transport by which materials can come in and out: road, rail and, yes, canal. There is a single shot of a tube being loaded onto a barge.

I get the impression that, despite the "26 miles of lock-free waterway", the canal is hardly used. From the website:

Where possible, we use environmentally-responsible transport links. Our Old Oak Sidings site sits on a 26 mile lock free section of the Grand Union Canal between Camden and Slough. The company’s wharf can take three 90ft barges at any one time, carrying up to 80 tonnes of waste each. The site is also situated at a key railway junction and has its own sidings. A train leaves these sidings daily carrying recovered soil to Buckinghamshire for use in restoration schemes. One train holds the equivalent of 70 lorry loads of material, making this an extremely environmentally-responsible option.

(my highlighting)

A canal freight revival? Not quite yet.

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