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Rail freight's role in the green economic future

12 December 2011

Philippa Edmunds from Freight on Rail reports on how relatively small-scale investment in line upgrades can boost the economy and shift freight away from environmentally damaging road transport.

freight map

In spite of the reductions in spending across the public sector, the role that transport infrastructure can play in regenerating the economy has been recognised by the Government. Ministers have restated their commitment to funding schemes which can be demonstrated to stimulate economic growth. And rail freight upgrades can tick all the key boxes in terms of reducing road congestion, green jobs, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and road accident reduction.

So the rail freight industry as a whole - unions and employers - have prioritised lobbying in support of four main schemes in the next round of public funding. If given the go ahead for the 2014-2019 spending round, these schemes - illustrated on the map - would significantly expand Britain's Strategic Rail Freight Network.

So why should the Government fund these four projects at a combined cost of #350 million? In a nutshell, because rail freight offers a crucial low carbon, energyefficient safer alternative to road and can deliver huge returns for every pound invested in it. The Freight Transport Association have used government figures to show that road congestion is now costing the UK around #24 billion a year. Rail acts as a freight bypass with each freight train of consumer goods able to remove 60 HGVs from our roads. Meanwhile a single aggregates train can replace a staggering 160 HGVs. Added to that, rail freight creates 70 per cent less carbon dioxide than the equivalent road journey, with a gallon of diesel carrying a tonne of freight 246 miles by rail as opposed to 88 miles by road.

freight graphs

Rail freight is breaking out of its traditional markets

Last year for the first time, consumer rail freight traffic was greater than coal traffic. Despite the recession, consumer rail freight has now been growing for eight consecutive years, expanding by 29 per cent over the past five years. The industry predicts that rail freight overall will have doubled by 2030, with consumer rail freight growing 7.6 per cent a year during this period.

One of the key problems suppressing growth from reaching even higher levels are the limitations of the rail network. Allowing access to trains carrying the larger shipping containers which are increasingly becoming the industry standard, on standard height wagons, can make a huge difference. The impact of the loading gauge upgrade to lines out of Southampton has been that rail's market share has increased from 30 per cent to 39 per cent since the upgrade was completed in February this year. Currently, rail has around 25 per cent of the market out of Felixstowe, the UK largest container port, with 29 trains going in and out of the port daily. If the proposed upgrades are implemented that share could rise to around 40 per cent, removing 40 million lorry miles from the A14 corridor each year.

A new trans-European highvolume freight service between Wroclaw, in Poland, and Barking starts in November. This is the first freight service running on High Speed 1, the only UK railway built to a European loading gauge. Automotive, retail and food sector products are being imported and exported by rail through the Channel Tunnel, taking advantage of the significantly larger haulage capacity available on HS1, where two standard containers can be transported stacked on top of each other.

The funding situation is very difficult now but the government still states that it supports capital infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy. Please lobby your MPs to support schemes that will get more freight off the roads onto the railways: for a safer, cleaner, less congested society, creating green jobs and growing sustainedly. The Government will make its decision on what projects receive funding next summer, so the plan is to lobby hard for these key works to enhance the Strategic Rail Freight Network from now until that date.

For more details see

Freight on Rail members include DB Schenker, Freightliner, ASLEF, RMT, TSSA, UNITE, Rail Freight Group and Campaign for Better Transport.


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