Friday, April 30, 2021

Rail Freight in the Spotlight as Industry Lobby Interests Play Up its Role for the Future

Meanwhile Union Says Government Policy on the Industry Not Fit for Purpose
Shipping News Feature

UK – Working in partnership with Deloitte the latest report from the Rail Delivery Group sets out to outline the importance of rail freight to the UK, both in terms of financial and environmental benefits.

The report, which can be read in full here, reveals the industry delivers in excess of £2.5 billion in benefits to the country in terms of economic and social contributions, whilst also helping to achieve overall promised carbon emission targets. Robert Nisbet, Director of Nations and Regions for the Rail Delivery Group, said:

“Rail will play a central role in levelling up Britain and rail freight is already doing some heavy lifting, supporting businesses and jobs across the nations and regions. As we work to secure a green recovery from Covid-19, encouraging more businesses to move their goods by train coupled with a rolling programme of electrification would see rail freight play an even bigger role in helping the nation to meet its carbon commitments.”

The report naturally received a warm welcome from those industry bosses such as Eddie Aston, Chief Executive Officer for Freightliner (and other Genesee & Wyoming European rail companies) and from Zoe McLernon, Policy Manager of Multi Modal at Logistics UK, who said:

“Logistics UK is urging the government to unlock capacity for rail freight services to help meet the target of a net zero emission economy by 2050. Currently taking seven million lorries off the roads each year, rail freight can play a vital role in achieving the UK’s decarbonisation targets, but capacity for freight services is severely constrained.

”[We are] urging the government to heed the report findings, which revealed that freight services on some underutilised off-peak passenger routes deliver greater economic value than passenger use, and allow freight operators access to these lines. Logistics UK is also urging the government to commit to electrifying the UK’s railways, with today’s report showing that on delivery of a decarbonisation strategy and the potential growth in domestic movements, the environmental benefits of rail use over road could increase by six to ten-fold.”

What was not so well received was the publication of the new government figures to boost freight support, with transport union RMT saying the government policy to increase green freight transport in advance of COP26 was not fit for purpose.

The union points out that official government statistics show that the percentage of freight moved and lifted by rail has fallen continuously for the last 10 years whilst road freight has increased during the same period. It insists that the government must show much greater ambition to create a huge modal shift from road to rail and water as part of the green economic recovery and to meet emission reduction targets.

In the same week that the Government set a new legally-binding target to cut the country's greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035, figures released by the DfT reveal that rail freight companies received funding from the taxpayer to move more freight in the pandemic whilst cutting jobs. At the same time coastal shipping companies continue to ignore environmental subsidies which could provide work for UK seafarers made redundant during the crisis. RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said:

“The Government’s strategy to build back better from the Covid-19 crisis and to slash carbon emissions simply does not tally with their plans for massive cuts to railway budgets. We need the ambition, capacity and skills to massively increase the volume of freight moved by rail and water every year, yet the Government’s own statistics show that piecemeal funding to rail freight continues whilst the Government plans huge cuts to jobs on our railway and refuse to intervene to protect seafarer jobs.

“Transport workers are green workers. In the year of COP26 the Government has to get serious about using public money to cut pollution, increase jobs and deliver carbon free public transport networks across the UK as soon as possible.”

Photo: Image courtesy of Freightliner.