Associated British Ports' giant Hams Hall rail freight terminal near Birmingham has this year notched up a number of successes - including a new service for shipping operator Geest North Sea Line.

Six daily services from the operator now call at the terminal, where a new £1 million phase of expansion was completed at the start of the year to increase operational capacity.

The terminal is operated by ABP Connect, Associated British Ports' services division.

Stephen Burgess, ABP Connect's managing director, said: "We have had a satisfactory start to the year, and have enjoyed a number of successes.

"Hams Hall continues to go from strength to strength, and new business wins across our wide range of operations have been very pleasing. We also continue to develop our services by working closely with our customers and by investing in new facilities."

His comments came as ABP - Britain's biggest ports group - posted an eight per cent rise in first-half earnings, slightly ahead of forecasts, on gains from property sales and higher volumes.

The company, which handles about a quarter of Britain's seaborne trade, said long term contracts from blue-chip companies and two new UK port facilities would drive growth next year.

"We see growth continuing in the second half underpinned by new projects coming on," said chief executive Bo Lerenius, adding that he was comfortable with the market's existing expectations for the year. AB Ports said underlying pre-tax profit before exceptional items for the six months to June 30 was £67 million, compared with £61.9 million a year ago.

The result was slightly ahead of consensus market forecasts of £65 million.

Analysts said it was solid but they did not expect to adjust their forecasts for the year. AB

Ports said the market consensus for full-year pretax earnings was £130 million.

Underlying operating profit at its core ports business grew four per cent in the period to £74.2 million, matching forecasts it made in June for growth of at least three per cent.

The firm is investing £400 million in UK ports over

ten years. Two new facilities at Immingham in North-east England will become operational in 2006.

The company also said it had completed £213 million of property disposals, almost meeting its target of £250 million. "With the outlook backed by contracted revenues and growth from new investments the numbers should not

come under pressure in the second half," UBS told clients. Other UK ports have also tipped a buoyant first-half despite a slowdown in spending. Forth Ports said in June it expected a strong second half.

ABP posted an interim dividend up four per cent to 7.25p.