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Column - January 2018

Rail freight is a key part of the freight solution 

The following DfT quote explains why road and rail, which complement each other, must play to their respective strengths in order to service the UK economy while protecting society and the environment.

Shifting freight from road to rail can result in significant CHG emission savings as well as economic and safety co-benefits 1.

Rail is well placed to deliver long distance consumer and bulk commodities. So, if more of the long distance large HGV traffic, a quarter of which are doing journeys over 300 kms, can be transferred to rail, there will be better reliability for all road traffic as well as reducing exposure to road collisions and pollution. This should include looking at urban logistics with rail served consolidation centres incorporated in City plans. 

The Government will struggle to reach its carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction targets unless more freight is transferred to rail. CO2 reductions from the larger HGVs, which will continue to use the current engine technology well into the next decade, according to the DfT Freight, will be much harder to achieve than other smaller road freight vehicles. Articulated HGVs do most of their travel om motorways (58.8 per cent) and on trunk roads a further 22.7 per cent and in these conditions, regenerative braking and hybrid does not offer significant savings. Currently the large 5 and 6 axle HGVs,which account for over half of HGV miles,are responsible for considerably more than half of truck CO2 emissions.

Rail freightThe AECOM report for the DfT, part of the Rail Freight Strategy work in 2016, studied the potential for transfer to rail from longer distance hauls and found the potential for reducing HGV mileage by 19-20 per cent by 2030 if the rail freight network is upgraded. The UK Climate Change Committee advises that the UK needs to reduce motor vehicle miles (even with an electric fleet) by 5 per cent beyond base to meet our carbon budget.

Rail freight could and should also be playing a larger role in reducing NOx and particulate emissions; HGVs account for around 21% of road transport NOx emissions while making up just 5% of vehicle miles 2. There is also growing recognition of the need to tackle freight’s particulate emissions from brake and tyre as well as tail-pipe particulate emissions.Over half of small particle pollution comes from the wear on brake discs and tyres and by throwing up dust from roads; in the case of large HGVs it will be difficult to reduce these emissions.

Therefore, Freight on Rail will be making a strong socio-economic case for continued Government rail freight investments, to which the Government committed in its recent Statement of Funds Available announcement.  Enhancements, for which no figures has been given as yet for the next five year period from 2019-2024, will now be handled separately with a pipeline approach with a revised delivery process.  Targeted rail freight upgrades work; the gauge upgrades out of Southampton Port increased rail’s market share from 29 to 36 per cent within a year and had a benefit-cost ratio of five to one.

We believe that the uncertainty over further electrification schemes, is short-sighted and deeply disappointing. Electrification, which is proven technology, reduces carbon dioxide and air pollution as well as increasing rail speeds, capacity and reducing maintenance costs.

The following new initiatives show the strategic importance of rail freight. On the construction side, there are these examples of new traffic. DB Cargo UK is now transporting 2,300 tonnes of building materials on a jumbo train with 34 wagons for Cemex, from ABP’s Port of Cardiff to Acton in London for construction industry use in London and the South East. Rail already transports 40 per cent of construction materials into London and there is suppressed demand for more services so planning permission for more aggregates terminals and access to key rail routes in the capital are needed. GB Rail freightRailfreight is now transporting ash from Cottam Power Stations in Nottinghamshire to the HH Celcon brick works in Sussex for J Clubb Ltd to use in the manufacture of ‘aircrete’ blocks, which are then used in building and construction. A new Tarmac rail depot contained within Freightliner’s existing Garston complex, which will take around 10,000 trucks off the roads every year, will receive up to 300,000 tonnes of aggregates a year for onward supply to Tarmac customers across Merseyside and Cheshire.

On the ports side, DB Cargo brought the first steel coil train for the Armitt Group into its integrated 120,000 sqft specialist handling facility at Hutchison Ports London Thamesport.  Peel Ports is set to launch a new rail container service for its customers from the Port of Liverpool offering an integrated package, giving shippers a seamless route to market, from quayside to any UK destination served by major rail lines.

Direct Rail Services has brought the UK’s first ten dual electric and diesel locomotives, the Class 88, which can go anywhere on the rail network. These locomotives are capable of bridging gaps in the UK electrified network in a seamless way which minimises delays and are ideal for the freight market as they can use its diesel engine to go into freight terminals. Destined for consumer traffic duties, DRS will use the new locomotives on its intermodal supermarket services on the West Country main line, especially the Daventry to Mossend flow via the steep gradients at Shap and Beattock.

Our recent DfT sponsored research confirms what we have long argued, that integrated rail and road planning is the best way to reduce road congestion, collisions and pollution. It shows that on certain strategic transport corridors it is possible to improve road conditions without needing to add more road capacity. Already the 33 freight trains in and out of Felixstowe remove around 2500 lorries per day off the congested A14 corridor.The A14 corridor from Felixstowe has up to 6,500 of the largest HGVs, (5 & 6 axle articulated lorries) on the route each day which represents between 10 and 17 per cent of all traffic. If the rail network was fully upgraded, rail freight could be increased by 50 or 60 per cent on the A14 corridor removing a further 2000 trucks each day which are equivalent to between 6000 to 8000 cars 3, once calculations are made for the extra space and braking distances for these large HGVs in congested conditions.

Congestion costs UK £30 billion a year according to Inrix’s latest figures with the UK ranked the fourth most congested developed country and third most congested in Europe. Rail freight could and should be part of the solution; shippers and construction firms are crying out for more rail freight services which are constrained by the rail network.  

1. DfT Freight Carbon Review February 2017. P43 Key messages

2. DfT Freight Carbon Review February 2017

3. Each HGV is between 3 and 4additional passenger car unit values

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