Appoint 'freight evangelist' and put decarbonisation at heart of railway revamp, say trade bodies

Thu 20 May 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

rail freight

The rail industry has called on the government to appoint a ‘freight evangelist’ to ensure that freight achieves its potential as part of a revamp of the UK’s railways.

The ‘Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail’, a white paper published by the government today (20 May), has recommended that rail infrastructure and services are placed under the control of an arm’s-length public body called Great British Railways.

The move would see the current system of franchises replaced by contracts incentivising private firms on punctuality and efficiency rather than revenues, reports the Guardian.

Rail freight

Logistics trade groups are calling for sustainable, decarbonised rail freight to be at the heart of these new plans.

John Smith, managing director of GB Rail Freight (GBRf), the third largest rail freight operator in the UK, told the Loadstar: “We are at a critical point in the sector’s future. The white paper will have long-lasting consequences on all aspects, including rail freight.”

He added that the government should appoint a “freight evangelist” to argue on behalf of the industry as part of the revamp.

Decarbonise rail

GBRf wants the government to sign up to its five-point ‘freight manifesto’, which outlines measures for supporting growth in the industry and putting it on a path towards sustainability, including “having decarbonisation at its heart”.

Last month, a collective of rail and freight associations called on the UK government to electrify more of the country’s railways or risk failing to meet its 2050 emissions targets.

Trader demand

Maggie Simpson of the Rail Freight Group (RFG) said there was growing demand from traders for rail freight due to the need to ‘decarbonise their supply chains’.

“Businesses across the country are hungry for more rail freight as they decarbonise their supply chains and build back the economy,” she said. 

“The creation of Great British Railways is a unique opportunity to meet these ambitions if it ensures that private sector rail freight operators can flourish, and that customers and suppliers are encouraged to invest for growth.”

Difficult year

Data from National Rail shows that rail freight carries more than £30bn of goods around Britain each year on average, with each freight train taking about 76 HGVs off the roads. Around one in every four sea containers arriving at UK ports is carried inland by rail.

However, volumes for rail freight dropped by 16.6bn net tonne kilometres over 2019-20 – its lowest total in 23 years, according to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

The proportion of freight moved on the rail network was 9% in 2018. The percentage moved by road (HGV) increased by 1 percentage point to 79% and 13% was moved by water.