Monday, September 23, 2019

Rail Freight Calls for New Approach from Governments to Boost Industry

Study Shows Share of Cargo Fluctuates Annually
Shipping News Feature

UK – An ambitious growth strategy for rail freight could generate between £75-90 billion in environmental and economic benefits over the coming decade, according to a new report published by Rail Freight Group (RFG). The study, undertaken by Stephen Joseph Associates highlights how a new approach from national and local Governments, along with continued investment from the industry could unlock growth significantly in excess of current projections.

Railfreight volumes in 2017-18 were around 17 billion tonne-kilometres, accounting for around 9% of total surface freight movement. This has fluctuated over the years with it being 8% in 1998, rising to 13% in 2014, but has fallen with increases in road freight and decline in coal and steel bulk traffic. Compared solely to heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), rail’s share was 16% in 2016.

The rail industry’s long-term planning process, led by Network Rail, has produced forecasts of future rail freight traffic based on these trends. These have a range of scenarios with the 2013 Freight Market Study by Network Rail forecasting an increase of tonne kilometres to nearly 60 billion by 2043.

However, various factors have combined to see lower growth since the 2013 study. These include a continued freeze on fuel duty and lower wage growth which have helped road freight to keep its costs lower than predicted. There has also been less rail-based warehousing completed and there are continued capacity constraints on the rail network.

The report, which has been based on a review of existing literature, highlights the key areas necessary to unlock growth, which include;

  • Accelerated investment in the Strategic Freight Network to unlock capacity and improve train efficiencies
  • Electrification of core routes to further improve rail freight’s environmental benefits
  • Promotion of new rail linked facilities and reform of planning law to support a greater uptake of rail
  • Investment and support for new rail freight services including high speed freight to city centres
  • Increased grants and access charge discounts to encourage uptake
  • Mainstreaming rail freight in transport and industrial policy
  • Future changes to road pricing to support modal shift

The report suggests that such measures will unlock greater benefits for the economy and environment arising from reduced congestion, improved road safety and road damage, and improved efficiency for customers. There are also significant carbon savings arising from a greater use of rail. RFG Director General, Maggie Simpson said:

“With renewed focus on the environment, and with new trade opportunities on the horizon there has never been a better time to invest in rail freight. This report shows how a strategic and targeted programme from Government could encourage new private investment and unlock very significant benefits for the country.”