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Useful Facts and Figures - Environmental Arguments for Rail Freight

FreightlinerTransport is the fastest growing source of climate change. Road transport is responsible for nearly one quarter of total UK greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike other parts of the economy, where significant progress has been made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, road transport emissions have actually increasedby 1% since 1990. Improvements in fuel efficiency mean that CO2emissions per mile are reducing over time, but this has been offset by an increase
in vehicle mileage.

Freight is a big CO2 emitter

  • There is a significant opportunity to reduce transport emissions by shifting freight from road vehicles to rail. In total, road freight (Heavy Goods Vehicles and light vans) was responsible for one third of total greenhouse gas emissions from transport in 2015. Source EIS (2017) ‘Final UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics: 1990-2015
  • By contrast, the total greenhouse gas emissions from rail (including both freight and passengers combined) are an order of magnitude lower at less than 2% of total UK transport emissions.
  • As rail freight produces 76% less CO2 emissions than the equivalent HGV journey, increasing rail freight is an important part of the DfT’s policy to reduce freight’s emissions and help the UK meet its legally binding Climate Change targets. Source DfT Rail Freight Strategy September 2016
  • HGVs contribute 17 per cent of surface access CO2 emissions, despite making up only 5 per cent of road vehicles whereas both passenger and freight rail together are less than 2 per cent. Source DfT Rail Freight Strategy September 2016
    Air Pollution
    Rail freight can be part of the solution to reduce air pollution. Currently, 40,000 people die prematurely in the UK from diesel fumes wide-spread air quality violations, especially in cities like London and Manchester which are already exceeding their NOX emissions limits.
    Rail produces 90 per cent less PM10 particulates and up to 15 times less nitrogen dioxide emissions than HGVs for the equivalent journey. Highways England figures show that HGVs are producing around 50% of the nitrogen oxide pollution from road pollution on the strategic road network even though they only make up 5 per cent of road miles driven in the UK.

    HGVs account for around 21% of road transport NOx emissions while making up just 5% of vehicle miles – DfT Freight Carbon Review February 2017

Freight Transport: Average emissions in grams per tonne-kilometre



















PM10 particulate matter of less than 10 microns;
CO carbon monoxide;
NOx oxides of nitrogen;
CO2 emissions
VOC volatile organic compounds.  Source RSSB 2007

  • Energy efficiency is directly related to carbon dioxide emissions, rail is significantly more energy efficient than other modes with the exception of shipping. a tonne of goods can travel 246 miles by rail as opposed to 88 miles by road on a gallon of fuel 
    Source Network Rail Value of Freight July 2010.
  • While electric technology means car emissions can be reduced significantly, current electric technology is not feasible for HGVs as the batteries would weigh more than the payload of the lorry. 
  • Noise Pollution
    Far fewer people negatively impacted by rail noise than road noise.
    DfT stats: only around 40,000 people are impacted by rail noise, but around 700,000 people are impacted by road noise.

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