TWO huge container stacking cranes are on their way to Southampton to boost the lifting capacity of the port’s leading rail freight operator.

The £9m rail-mounted gantry cranes, made for Freightliner by Liebherr, will be the largest of their type in the UK.

Freightliner bosses said they will increase reliability and eventually nearly double container lift rates, spanning 13 railroads compared to the seven the existing cranes can span.

The investment by Freightliner comes as port owners ABP won consent for a major £80m upgrade of the container terminal to handle the world’s largest container ships.

The new cranes will meet the demand driven by recent rail network improvements that have allowed super-sized 9ft 6in high containers to be hauled on standard wagons to the Midlands, north-west and Scotland.

Freightliner managing director Adam Cunliffe said: “Freightliner remains the only rail freight operator to provide and continually invest within its supporting port and terminal network.

“The replacement cranes at Southampton represent the largest and most efficient port or terminal rail cranes in the UK.

“The cranes again confirm Freightliner’s unparalleled capital commitment to support its unique service offering, further enhancing the ability of our customers to reliably use rail as the preferred mode of choice for inland distribution.”

Further infrastructure improvements are also planned for the rail terminal at Southampton docks, adding more roads and increased track length to coincide with ABP scheme to combine berths 201 and 202 and upgrade a 500m quay wall to create a new fourth berth.

Liebherr Container Cranes is shipping the cranes from Ireland to Southampton Port for installation in August.

The firm has an 80 per cent market share of container rail freight at Southampton, transporting more than 1,000 containers out of the docks every day.

It operates 14 daily round trip services from Southampton to ten inland terminals throughout the UK.