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Column - October 2017

FIT article August 2017

General Public want the Government to support more rail freight services  

Rail freight might not get a vote but a recent YouGov poll, commissioned by Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), shows that the public support rail over HGVs when it comes to freight which makes sense , as rail freight reduces road congestion, road damage, road fatalities and pollution.The poll shows that almost two thirds of the public (61 per cent) want more freight on the railways with onlytwo per cent wanting to see more freight on the roads.

Image showing various statsThere is customer demand for more consumer and construction traffic which is currently constrained by the lack of space on the rail network. The poll revealsthat 63 per cent of people questioned also supported increasing government funding to allow more freight trains on the rail network, with only three per cent opposing such measures. The Government has just committed a £billion each year to upgrading roads but if it is mindful of public opinion it should continue upgrading the rail freight network too.

Furthermore, the Government’s Rail Freight Strategy of September 2016 spelt out the benefits of rail freight to the economy and society and highlighted that all these benefits are not currently being recognised. 135 - At the same time, we recognise the positive benefits of rail freight for the UK – including its environmental and air quality benefits relative to road freight and its impact on reducing road congestion. These benefits are not currently recognised in the track access charging regime.

Research carried out for the Campaign for Better Transport*, which used existing Government criteria, found that HGVs pay less than a third of the costs associated with their activities in terms of road congestion, road collisions, road damage and pollution.These conclusions are in line with two other separate reports;  MDSTransmodal study in 2007 found a very similar amount of underpayment: £6billion. Transport & Environment research issued in April 2016 found that HGVs were only paying 30% of their external costswhich is a barrier to enabling rail freight to compete on a level playing field. Given the need to reduce road congestion and air pollution, we believe that the Government, must now take this market distortion into accountin its current review of freight access charges, as any increases in rail freight charges will result in trainloads of freight transferring back to roadand prevent future rail freight expansion. 

Of the people questioned for this poll, only around 1 in 10 (12 per cent) were in favour of increasing rail freight charges. The scale of subsidy to road makes a compelling case for the Government supporting rail freight equivalently which imposes much lower costs on the environment, society and the economy.

Furthermore, rail freight should be pivotal in the Government’s policy to reduce harmful emissions and improving air quality.Rail freight produces 90 per cent less PM10 particulates and up to 15 times less nitrogen dioxide emissions than HGVs for the equivalent journey, while HGVs are responsible for 21 per cent of NOx emissions while accounting for five per cent of miles driven. 

Rail freight has seen consistent year on year growth in key consumer and construction markets, but the potential for further growth is constrained by the current rail freight network, meaning that demand continues to outstrip supply. Construction traffic moved by rail freight grew by 7 per cent in the year to April 2017 to a record high of 4.25 billion net tonne-km, according to ORR figures. The largest commodity group is now domestic intermodal which grew by 6 per cent last year reaching 6.8 billion net tonne-km.

Road and rail complement each other and should play to their strengths. And rail freight is well placed to cater for long distance trunk haul for consumer traffic as well as traditional bulk commodities. Recent research by consultants MTRU for Campaign for Better Transport and sponsored by the Department for Transport, discussed in detail in the previous column, shows that sending more goods by rail has the potential to dramatically reduce road congestion and thus improve productivity on some of the country’s busiest trunk roads such as the A14, A34 and M6.So we urge the Government to upgrade key routes and continue to fund the Strategic Rail Freight Network in its forthcoming Statement of Funds Available and the Budget, in line with its official DfT response to our joint research: "We agree with the Campaign for Better Transport that rail freight offers real benefits for the environment and helps keep bulky loads off of the road network, helping to ease congestion for other motorists. We look forward to using these findings to help inform our coming road and rail strategies and are committed to working with the rail freight industry to support growth of the sector.”

In the same way that passengers need stations to access the rail network, freight needs terminals/interchanges of  different sizes and for different commodities both at origins and destinations of freight flows .Therefore, we need a planning system which can deliver new locations, and protect existing sites from adverse development. Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges (SRFIs), which show the way the private sector is investing in and supporting rail freight, are important drivers for modal shift as they reduce the transhipment costs and enable rail to compete with HGVs. New figures from the Daventry SRFI, show that the existing rail freight services remove 64 million lorry journeys mainly from the strategic road network each year. Other SRFIs such as I-Doncaster and Howbury Park are coming on stream with the West Midlands Interchange  atFour Ashes near Wolverhampton and enhanced rail freight facilities as part of Tilbury2, in the planning process. The Tilbury2 proposal includes establishing a rail connection into the new 152-acre deep-water port and plans for regular intermodal services to the Midlands and Scotland as well as a dedicated bulk terminal. West Midlands interchange will have rail connections to the West Coast Main Line, be capable of accommodating up to 10 trains per day and trains of up to 775m long as well as providing container storage, HGV parking, rail control building and staff facilities; Furthermore, it will have up to o 743,200 square metres of rail served warehousing and ancillary service buildings.

Trade is at the core of the economy and as Brexit forges new global trading
arrangements, we need efficient freight and logistics links to deliver exports to market,
and imports to our consumers and manufacturers. Rail freight is a key part of this, with
strong links to ports and the Chanel Tunnel. Government needs to support these links,
through streamlined customs procedures, investment in infrastructure and ensuring
seamless international journeys by rail can continue.



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