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Column - July 2011
 

Consumer rail freight expands market share

Rail freight consumer traffic continues to grow for the eighth consecutive year with a 16.6 per cent increase in the first quarter of 2011 for products such as clothing, furniture, electrical components and food stuff .  Rail represents 11 per cent of freight surface market with a quarter of all products imported through the South East container ports being transported inland by rail.

The rail freight industry has shown its commitment to improving efficiency through a series of innovative initiatives. The rail Industry has used the rail network efficiently, with average freight train sizes up by 10-20% in past 5 years. This achieves increases in modal shift and also reductions in carbon emissions by using what already exists more effectively. These increases are achieved by co-operation to exploit the limits of what the infrastructure can bear but now in many changes the infrastructure needs expansion.

That is why continued investment in the Strategic Rail Freight Network in the next railway planning period 2014-19 is crucial if rail freight’s competitive potential to reduce road congestion and freight’s carbon emissions is to be realised. The key gauge work to clear the routes for the 9ft 6 in container, from the two main container ports of Southampton and Felixstowe has now been completed. Both Rail Freightroutes now need capacity upgrades so that the suppressed demand for rail services at the both ports can be met. These upgrades need to cater for longer trains as well. Other key projects include capacity upgrades on the West Coast Main Line north of Crewe and on the East Coast Mainline north of Doncaster.

Here are some examples if you drill down behind these growth figures. DB Schenker introduced a new shuttle service from on behalf of Tata Steel connecting its steel works in Ijmuiden in the Netherlands, with the works in Llanwern, Wales. The trains, with a total weight of up to 1,800 tonnes, carry steel coils for customers in the UK manufacturing sector four times a week. However, Eurotunnel’s charging policy is having an adverse impact on further new traffic much of which is only viable for extremely long flows from countries like Poland to the UK, resulting in this key international infrastructure being severely under-utilised.

Freightliner has signed a multimillion pound deal with Maersk Line to provide committed space for the transport of containers from Felixstowe, for the  movement of up to 190,000 containers a year, which will save more than 63,000 tonnes of carbon emissions on equivalent road moves. Freightliner currently operates around 21 daily services to 15 destinations across the UK from the port.

Tesco has opened its huge new 840,000 sq ft rail connected distribution centre at ProLogis’ DIRFT II site this summer.  The new distribution centre comprises three rail reception lines and a handling slab that will accommodate either reach stackers or rubber-tyred gantry cranes. It is anticipated that Tesco will augment its start-up  its operation with further one to two trains running daily this year, building towards a potential eight trains a day. It estimates that once the new warehouse is fully operational, the rail facilities will allow it to take almost 100,000 lorry journeys off the roads every year, supporting the company’s commitment to becoming a zero carbon business by 2050.

However, if the Government proceeds with its proposal to increase semi-trailer lengths by almost 7ft it will crush consumer rail freight growth and instead encourage long distance road traffic and more congestion; the Government’s own figures state that the rail sector’s forecasted growth would reduce by two thirds. The Government’s central case is built on the prediction that road operators will increase their share of goods traffic as a result of introducing longer lorries, despite its stated commitment to increase rail freight, backed by the public. Their  justification is based on the assumption that longer lorries will result in fewer road trips, but previous increases in length and/or weight have simply resulted in the same number of bigger lorries on the roads. Government figures show that more than one in four lorries are driving around empty and almost half of lorries are neither constrained by weight or volume of cargo, ie partially loaded, so if  they cannot fill existing sized lorries, why will they be able to fill bigger ones?

Were the correct economic assumptions used with proper consideration given to congestion implications, longer trailers would be shown to cause additional carbon dioxide emissions, more road freight tonne miles, more road congestion and  the possibility of 4-8 per cent more collisions and an extra 6 fatalities per year. The longer lorry will become the default vehicle, small and medium sized hauliers will find it even harder to compete with the big operators and stand to lose £1.8 billion in depreciation costs over a 5 year period, a figure that the DfT has not even attempted to calculate. This proposal is being pushed by the big logistics operators tied to supermarket logistics who will undoubtedly be able to make use of the extra volume and therefore to increase their efficiency. However, society and the bulk 1 of freight operators, who are not big hauliers, will be the losers as road congestion, pollution and road collisions increase. 


1. Lorry fleets of 10 or less vehicles make up almost half lorry fleet in UK  Source Vehicle and Operator Services Agency


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