The gradual expansion of Felixstowe

A string of new port developments are beginning to enter the market in the Le Havre- Hamburg range. The largest of these is the Maasvlatke 2 development in Rotterdam and probably the most publicised is the London Gateway port in the Thames estuary. However, less noticed but as important is the expansion of Felixstowe.

Handling 3.7m TEUs a year it is the largest container port in the UK, though it is markedly smaller than either Rotterdam or Antwerp. Yet, as one of three western European ports on the ‘Daily Maersk’ service, it is a key facility in the range.

Its present expansion is both an attempt to grow the volume of containers passing through the port and to improve the ease with which it handles the largest ships.

The work that was started this week was a combination of dredging and the construction of a quay extension. A specialist vessel has begun to dredge 1m cu m of silt from the approach to the port, deepening the draft of the channel to 18 m and providing material for the quay itself, which will be extended by 190 m to 920 m.

This work is only a part of the general expansion in the port. The connecting roads are being widened and the port has sought to increase the attractiveness of its rail services through significant investment. A new rail terminal and new track have increased the carrying capacity to sixty 30-wagon trains a day, although rail movements in and out of the port still account for less than 1m TEUs a year. The expanded quay will also see the addition of three new very large gantry cranes with a reach of 25 containers.

Hutchison Ports, the owners of Felixstowe, had hoped to expand the container terminal capacity even further by building a new smaller port with a maximum capacity of 1.7m TEUs on the other side of the terminal at Bathside Bay. However this development has been cancelled due to planning difficulties; although the lower growth rates in container shipping may have influenced the decision too. If it had gone ahead the combination of the two would have been a very large port complex with the potential to handle considerably more than 6m TEUs per annum. This option cannot be entirely ruled-out in the future, illustrating that when combined with developments such as London Gateway, the potential of the Port of Southampton and even Bristol, the UK has the potential to expand its container port capacity very substantially.