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Column - January 2011

Any new rail structure needs to incentivise the encouragement of rail freight

The industry starts the new year optimistic after the Comprehensive Spending Review settlements  recognised the importance of rail freight to the economy 1 and society 2. However the rail restructuring proposals within the Value for Money Rail Review and the reform of the Planning system present significant challenges to rail freight’s continued development and the successful achievement of modal shift.

At the end of 2010 the industry had confirmation of  the Coalition’s support for the capital investment in key schemes in the Strategic Rail Freight Network to enhance the major national freight routes. Namely the  capacity upgrades on the route between Felixstowe to Nuneaton and upgrading links from Southampton to West Midlands with gauge clearance on an complementary route via Laverstock and Andover.

DB Maersk

We also warmly welcomes the Coalition’s continued support for crucial rail freight grants which  underpin existing and emerging consumer rail freight business 3 4, which increased its market share despite the recession last year which is forecast to grow fivefold in the next 20 years 5. Grants are only paid for actual long distance lorry miles taken off the roads and the resulting reduction in long distance road congestion, in carbon dioxide emissions and exposure to road accidents 6. Without these grants, this traffic which includes domestic intermodal supermarket business, would have been forced back onto the congested road network. Confirmation of the capital investments in the Strategic Freight Network and the grants budget gives both the industry and its customers confidence to invest in the industry long- term.

However, potential key policy changes regarding rail industry structures and spatial planning being envisaged by the Coalition Government, face the industry this year. Any rail restructuring as part of the Value for Money study which introduced regional sectorisation and vertical integration would be a massive threat to rail freight because rail freight needs a national rail network to compete with a national road network. In particular, rail freight needs national timetabling, co-ordinated engineering work to ensure main and diversion routes are not closed together, affordable charges and protection of future strategic capacity for freight. Any new structure needs to incentivise the encouragement of rail freight, if it is to compete and flourish.

As part of the Coalition Government’s revisions of spatial planning policy a single National Planning Policy Framework will replace existing extensive national planning policies, guidance and statements. There is a real danger that the level of streamlining promised could have serious consequences for the environment and society if crucial land protection and designations are lost.

So we will be pressing the Coalition to take into account the following in its revision of spatial planning:-

  • Need to protect and safeguard both disused and potential rail corridors nationally which should be implemented given that both Coalition partners’ manifestos committed to imposing a moratorium on building on disused rail routes.
  • The forthcoming National Policy Statement on rail needs to make the case for Strategic Rail Freight interchanges and medium sized smaller terminals. We believe that all future major freight distribution hubs should be capable of being rail served in line with Coalition policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and green transport.
  • Need to give local authorities the right to safeguard suitable sites for rail freight terminals within their boundaries without fear of pressure to give up these strategic sites beside the railways for other non rail development. These powers are part of Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) 13 which are crucial to all freight modes whether it be lorry parks, wharves or rail/road transfer terminals.
  • The new duty to co-operate within the Localism Bill, which started its way through Parliament in December, needs to make planning authorities take account of wider economic and environmental benefits and costs beyond its boundaries of projects like rail freight terminals if the Coalition is to meet its targets to stimulate the green economy.

1. An average freight train can remove 50 long distance HGVs from our roads
2. Rail freight produces 70% less carbon dioxide emissions than the equivalent long distance road journey Source DfT Logistics Perspective December 2008 P8 section 10
3. Revenue Grants Mode Shift Revenue Support (MSRS) Budget 19 million for the year 2012-13 and the same figure as a guideline for the following two years
4. Consumer rail freight has increased market share and grown by 6.5% in the past year, despite the recession ORR Figures 24th June 2010
5. RFG/FTA forecasts June 2008
6. HGVs on major roads were over 3 times more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than cars due to a combination of size, lack of proper enforcement of drivers hours, vehicle overloading and differing foreign operating standards in 2008. Source: Road Statistics 2008, Tables 3.2 and 3.6, Road Freight Statistics 2008 Section 5, both DfT

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