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UK Rail Partners: Massive modal shift needs massive government action

New research urges the UK government to make much greater efforts to encourage modal shift to rail. The work was commissioned by Rail Partners, the lobby organisation that brings together rail freight stakeholders.

The research finds that trebling rail freight traffic by 2050 would deliver nearly 5.2 billion pounds (6.2 Billion euro) in economic benefits every year to the UK. Modal shift on to rail at that level would also take twenty-million heavy goods vehicle journeys off the roads of Britain.


The new report, ”Freight expectations”, which responds to the UK government’s ambitious target to treble rail freight by 2050, says that Britain faces a number of headwinds as it seeks to accelerate economic growth at the same time as striving to decarbonise the economy.


Ambition needs to be backed by government action


Rail Partners is calling on the UK government to work with its freight operator members, who represent the five biggest players in the sector, to develop and implement key policies to enable rail freight to play a central role in the decarbonisation of the UK logistics sector.


The lobby body, which speaks for the dominant operators who move almost all of the country’s rail freight, say in their new report that a growing rail freight market can deliver significant economic and environmental benefits. However, that ambition needs to be supported by the right legislative policies, between now and 2050.


The report includes independent analysis by Aether, the University of Hull’s Logistics Institute, and the independent agency Railfreight Consulting, both of whom collaborated to demonstrate rail freight’s continued environmental advantage over the road haulage sector. According to Rail Partners, it also shows that, if the sector is supported by the right policy environment, it can flourish and help support a more prosperous, greener economy in the future.


Rail Partners’ chief executive, Andy Bagnall, asked for the right kind of government support to deliver these optimal returns. “We welcome recent commitments to deliver rail reform and must now focus on the detail”, he said, asking for laws to be made. “Legislation is critical to capturing the benefits that a vibrant rail freight sector can offer.”


Freight operators stand ready to do even more to help support the delivery of the UK Government’s strategic objectives, says the report. “By operating longer and heavier freight services, it argues. “Freight operators are significantly improving productivity and growing the freight market. Analysis shows these innovative services ease road congestion by removing up to 129 HGVs from the road network per train, while further enhancing rail freight’s carbon and air quality performance.”


Alternative fuels fuel the modal shift debate


Customers and operators are united behind the rail freight goal. Morwen Mands, who is head of sustainability at the Scottish mineral water bottlers Highland Spring Group, a prominent example of the potential of modal shift, said rail freight helped realise their forty-years of sustainable development.


“Our new rail freight facility is a critical part of our commitment to tackling climate change and being a considerate neighbour to the local community”, she said. “We believe the landmark project in Blackford is an excellent example of the power of partnership working between the rail industry, government and business which will provide wider benefits to the environment and economy. We hope this facility inspires other businesses to explore using rail freight.”



A key partner and advocate, operator DB Cargo UK welcomed the new analysis. Their chief executive Andrea Rossi said it gave further weight to the company’s own highly publicised argument that freight belongs on rail.


“We’ve spent the last two years lobbying politicians and civil servants of the significant economic and environmental benefits of rail freight over road haulage,” he said, taking the opportunity to reiterate DB Cargo UK’s environmental campaign,“Freight Belongs On Rail.


"We know it. Our existing customers know it. The public knows it. We now need the UK government to work with us to enable more of it to switch from road to rail.”


DB Cargo UK has been pioneering the use of hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO) to fuel its locomotive fleet. The trials have been meeting with notable success, and providing an economical way to drive down carbon emissions.


“Setting a clear and ambitious target for rail freight growth, like already exists in Scotland, will give confidence in the sector, stimulate investment and unlock rail freight’s true potential”, concluded Rossi.


The report is available now from Rail Partners.


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