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Column - December 2019

The overwhelming case for intermodal freight solutions.

The Net Zero Carbon Act of June 2019 with its legally binding date of 2050 must help drive Government policy. Road traffic is up by almost a third in less than thirty years according to the Office of National Statistics, and the latest Committee on Climate Change figures show that transport continues to be the largest-emitting sector in the UK accounting for 28 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Cars, vans and heavy goods vehicles (HGV)  remain the three most significant sources of emissions, accounting for 87 per cent of domestic transport emissions, whilst rail is only responsible for 0.4 per cent. HGVs are responsible for 4.1 per cent1, which equates to almost 18 per cent of transport emissions despite only accounting for five per cent of vehicle miles. So, rail freight, which produces 76 per cent less carbon dioxide than HGVs for the equivalent journey, is therefore an important part of the freight mix.

Rail feightWe believe that the Government must commit to a sustained rail electrification programme as this is the only proven lowcarbon long-term solution for heavy freight, as confirmed by the National Infrastructure Commission Freight Study ‘rail electrification is both lower carbon and cleaner than other currently available solutions’, is a‘proven technology’, which ‘could turn out to be cheaper and quicker than other approaches’.

Road and rail complement each other and getting more freight onto rail makes lorries more reliable and delivers socio-economic benefits. Rail is well placed to offer long-distance consumer services, as well as traditional bulk traffic.The serious HGV driver shortage is yet another reason why the rail alternative is crucial; the average age of drivers in the UK now 57, with only one per cent of drivers under 25.

That is why it is good that the Department for Transport (DfT) is setting up a cross modal unit to support freight as a whole. This initiative, which contains a virtual freight unit, is responding to its own Ports Connectivity Study of 2018 and the National Infrastructure Commission Study of April 2019, which both recognised that freight needed more Government support with particular emphasis on intermodal solutions. This is one of the key long-term issues for rail freight, along with rail electrification, spatial planning to safeguard sites for rail freight terminals and changes to DfT appraisal to represent freight’s role more fairly. There is also a wider issue of the need for Government to increase the price of carbon in its modelling as its current low value is distorting transport decision making.

There is a plethora of new rail freight flows with a strong ports focus, showing that rail is of growing importance in meeting the supply chain needs of global businesses as part of intermodal logistics solutions.

For instance, PD Ports has launched a dedicated twice daily rail freight service for IKEA Transport & Logistics between Teesport and the new Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) at Doncaster called IPort. This service, which demonstrates the increasing demand for services from Teesport, removes around 120 HGV movements over a distance of 360 miles each day.

Additionally, GB Railfreight is running a new five day-a-week service from Felixstowe to IPort, which shows that new terminals are driving demand for rail freight services.

Rail freightEddie Stobart and Forth Ports launched a new service operated by DRS linking the ports of Tilbury and Grangemouth, carrying spirits, chemicals and fresh food including potatoes for export on its south bound journeys. Also at Tilbury, Maritime Transport has opened a modernised rail connected terminal converted from an existing terminal to handle both straddle carriers and reach stackers capable of handling both intermodal and specialised steel wagons. Additionally a Rubb shed was relocated from another part of the port to provide rail connected undercover storage.

And at Southampton’s Solent Rail terminal, ABP and Solent Stevedores have worked together to extend the track by 70m so that two 645m container trains can be serviced simultaneously,which has more than doubled the capacity of the terminal as previously only one shorter train could be accommodated at the terminal at a time. 

DCRail has started a new service for L&S Waste carrying used rail ballast from Westbury to Southampton where the ballast is processed and then used locally for construction purposes. This scheme removes more than 200 lorry movements each week and improves the environmental record of recycled secondary aggregates helping to lower air pollution in the city.

At Thamesport, the Armitt Group has built a new purpose built 120,000ft2specialist steel handing facility which has undercover rail warehousing with a direct rail link to the West Midlands where 80 per cent of the UK steel is destined for manufacturing.

Another SRFI is due to come on stream early next year called the East Midlands Gateway (SLPEMG), further developing the network of intermodal interchanges. The development incorporates a 50 acre SRFI which will include a rail freight terminal capable of handling up to sixteen 775m freight trains per day, container storage and HGV parking. The site is centrally located in the Midlands next to J24 of the M1 and East Midlands Airport. Nottingham is 13 miles to the north east, Leicester 20 miles to the south and Derby 14 miles to the north west. It will also be able to provide storage capacity for approximately 45,000 pallets of cargo.

Upon completion in early 2020, the intermodal Maritime Transport rail freight terminal will connect the East Midlands terminal SLPEMG directly to the Castle Donnington freight line via the Rugby loop. This facility will provide direct access to the UK’s network of rail freight interchanges as well as major UK ports such as Southampton, Felixstowe, London Gateway and the Channel Tunnel, showing how rail sidings open up new markets. 

As road congestion continues to increase, rail’s lower environmental impact, coupled with a growth in rail traffic and industry investment, mean that rail freight can and should play a bigger role in the future movements of goods, as long as it gets the Government support it warrants and needs. 

Freight on Rail is a partnership of the rail freight industry, the transport trade unions and Campaign for Better Transport promoting the economic, social and environmental benefits of rail freight

Freight on Rail members are Campaign for Better Transport, DB, Freightliner, GB Railfreight, DRS, Rail Freight Group, ASLEF, RMT & TSSA

1. Committee on Climate Change 2018 Progress Report to Parliament P 150

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