Railfuture promotes the use of rail as a cost effective and environmentally sound means of freight transport.

Prospects for rail freight

Author: Ian Brown CBE FCILT - Published Sun 12 of Dec, 2021 18:41 GMT - (0 Reads)
Ian Brown, Railfuture Policy Director and former rail freight manager, looks at the prospects for freight on rail in a world where addressing climate change is starting to matter following COP26, with the creation of Great British Railways. First New Silk Road train arriving on HS1 to Barking from Yiwo in China. Railfuture would like to see many more. Photo by morethanshipping.com.

Put freight customers at the heart of the national rail network

It is essential that the needs of freight customers are prioritised in any structural changes to the rail industry. Devolution of power to the regions must be set within a national framework that recognises that freight moves within national and global supply chains.
There needs to be an overarching national body to co-ordinate improved network capacity, resilience, capability and access to the rail system for freight operators, on a ‘24/7’ basis and at reasonable cost, while minimising the disruptive aspects of route modernisation programmes. Regional transport bodies must be incentivised to promote rail freight growth.

Provide capacity for long term growth

It is increasingly difficult to find spare capacity on the busy national railway for freight services. Railfuture believes that a doubling of overall rail capacity is required by 2050. More immediately, Government must invest in enhancements on strategic freight corridors, including Felixstowe – Nuneaton and North Transpennine, and gauge clearance projects to and from the Channel Tunnel. Freight capacity which already exists on the network needs to be safeguarded for future use where traffic growth is predicted.

Urban bottlenecks need to be addressed in areas such as London and Greater Manchester to provide access to and within these centres, for example, for intermodal and construction traffic. In Greater Manchester, Railfuture are promoting a new route for freight that:
  • Doubles the capacity of the Trafford Park terminals
  • Identifies a new terminal site capable of handling longer trains with simplified operation
  • Releases capacity for passenger traffic
  • Re-purposes 7Km of abandoned rail formation
  • Requires just 3.5Km of new line on mainly brownfield land
  • Offers a positive Benefit Cost Ratio in excess of 4:1
  • Is attracting interest from the rail industry including freight operators.
For more details see our proposal for relieving the Castlefield Corridor.

Re-signalling schemes, the provision of loops and extra running lines to accommodate freight should also be progressed where appropriate across the network.

Support for rail decarbonisation

Rail emits on average about 25 grams of CO2 per tonne kilometre, compared to road's 120 grams per tonne kilometre. A tonne of goods can travel 246 miles by rail on a gallon of diesel as opposed to 88 miles by road. Rail is also safer as each freight train on average takes 60 lorry journeys off our hard-pressed roads, meaning that there are fewer lorries to be involved in accidents and to wear out road surfaces.
Government needs to invest in a rolling programme of electrification, so that more freight can be hauled by electric locomotives and so that investment in bi-mode locomotives can be justified by the rail freight industry. As a priority this should include electrifying the following routes:
  • London Gateway – Thameshaven Junction
  • Nuneaton – Birmingham Lawley Street
  • Basingstoke – Southcote Junction and Oxford – Denbigh Hall Junction
  • Merehead and Whatley – Newbury
  • Felixstowe – Ipswich
  • Haughley Junction – Peterborough and Helpston – Nuneaton
  • Hare Park Junction – Leeds Stourton
  • Mountsorrel – Syston Junction and Manton – Corby

Freight policy

We press for specific policies as follows:
  • Promoting the maximum use of rail (and where appropriate water transport) for bulk and long-distance freight transit to reduce reliance on HGVs.
  • Championing alternative, sustainable approaches to freight traffic movement, not only for bulk and long-distance but also where appropriate over intermediate and short distances and for “less than trainload” traffics (including mail and express parcels).
  • Promoting modal transfer of unit loads from road haulage on to rail, inter-modal and rail and water, for bulky or non-perishable goods.
  • Gathering and spreading information on combined distribution process and innovative supply-chain logistics that offers significant reduction in lorry miles.
  • Lobbying for changes to the town planning process so that new industrial and warehousing developments are located where rail access can be provided, and existing barriers to the development of new rail freight interchanges are removed.
  • Working to ensure that all primary railway routes with significant freight volumes or growth potential are maintained fit-for-purpose and that secondary and feeder lines meet a definable maintenance standard, to allow for future flexibility and development.
  • Advocating improved network capacity, resilience, capability and access to the system 24/7, at a reasonable cost.
  • Recommending that incremental output, small-scale and route modernisation improvement programmes are developed, with minimal disruption to the freight operating companies.
  • Endorsing public funding grant mechanisms which provide for track access and capital works programmes.
  • Highlighting to bodies such as enforcement agencies and local councils, safety and road maintenance issues associated with lorries and road transport generally.
  • Lobbying for a tariff structure that maximises the use of the Channel Tunnel for rail freight.

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