Why rail freight?

Rail freightPhilippa Edmunds, Freight on Rail manager, explains why rail, as an energy efficient means of goods distribution, is so important in the context of creating a low carbon economy

The overwhelming need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in order to avoid climate change is understood and this is why rail, as a low carbon energy efficient means of freight distribution, is so important in the context of creating the low carbon economy society needs.

Rail and road complement each other and rail is particularly well placed to provide the long distance trunk haul between ports and distribution hubs in the supply chain, with road supplying the local leg to stores.

Rising figures

The latest ORR figures issued in early December show that UK consumer rail freight increased 4 per cent compared to the same quarter the previous year, despite the recession. This consumer sector grew by 6.5 per cent last year despite the fact that overall port volumes nationwide shrunk by 14 per cent.

These figures show sustained year on year growth for the seventh year in succession with industry forecasts demonstrating that consumer rail freight can increase by fivefold in the next 20 years as long as the network is upgraded and the following policies are in place. Let’s look at some examples in the emerging consumer market which is complementing the traditional bulk traffic.

DB Schenker started a new direct train service carrying a range of food and manufactured products for retailers linking the Midlands with Italy at the beginning of June 2010 which provides customers with a saving of at least 24 hours over traditional road haulage.

Direct Rail Services has relaunched a five day supermarket service for WH Malcolms with each daily train hauling up to 26 containers. It is estimated that CO2 savings of 12,000 tonnes per year will be made, which equates to removing over 13,000 lorry journeys off the road network between Daventry in the Midlands and Mossend in Scotland.

A joint scheme by Network Rail and Freightliner, which needed relatively small investment, to re-open a terminal at Bristol allows Trans Ocean to manage the movements of all wine imports into one of Europe’s largest wine facilities in Avonmouth using seven weekly trains.

International Produce, the logistics arm of WALMART responsible for supplying the supermarket chain ASDA with fresh fruit and vegetables, has been able to transfer fruit and vegetable imports from road to rail, using DB Schenker, to deliver 40 containers every weekend from the Port of Tilbury to the rail freight terminal at Wakefield.

The Royal Mail now has seven mail trains a day operated by DB Schenker, transporting more than one million items of mail every day.

Policies & investment

Rail freight receives limited targeted government interventions, which are helping the industry become more efficient, for example using longer trains, and gives the industry the confidence to invest longer term. At the core of the existing government policy is the Strategic (Rail) Freight Network (SFN) which will provide a reliable robust strategic network with diversionary routes to cater for the current and forecasted growth, in intermodal rail freight, connecting national major freight routes.

We warmly welcome the fact that crucial schemes, which will provide real tangible economic and social benefits and attracted third party funding, are to proceed. Furthermore, if rail freight is to strengthen its position as a low carbon choice for the logistics industry, so far unfunded upgrades on the SFN are needed beyond 2014. A priority is further capacity upgrades on the rail route out of Felixstowe, our largest container port, which runs parallel to the congested A14, would remove 40 million long distance lorry miles per annum.

Rail freight needs terminals
Rail freight cannot grow without new terminals and the planning system, which is being revised, is critical in delivering these facilities. While we support the coalition government’s decision to retain the principle of national decision making for nationally important projects, such as the strategic rail freight interchanges, in its major projects unit, we urge them to make sure that strategic planning at a sub-national level can take place otherwise the economy and the environment will suffer.

Therefore we ask the coalition government to make the case for rail freight interchange/terminals of all sizes in its forthcoming transport National Policy Statements and the National Planning Framework, without which it will be impossible to transfer more freight to rail. Without strategic direction, medium sized and small rail freight terminals, which have wider economic and environmental advantages but face local opposition and competition from other land use, will not get planning permission if only the local picture is considered. That is why we are urging the coalition to make local authorities take account of the wider economic and social benefits of schemes outside their boundaries in their duty to cooperate in the Localism Bill.

Against mega trucks
Despite the fact that the UK Government rejected trials of 60-tonne 83 ft (25.5 metre) lorries on UK roads in June 2008, if the European Parliament allows longer heavier lorries to travel across member states, it will mean, in the medium term, that mega trucks would come to the UK because of pressure from the road haulage industry. Mega trucks would not only lead to more congestion and pollution but would also severely undermine rail and water freight, the sustainable alternative to road and air.

Previous increases in lorry dimensions have led to more lorries driving around less full, which is the reverse of what was claimed would happen by the proponents of longer HGVs, who are using the same arguments again.

Despite the fact that previous EU research has shown that mega trucks would be more dangerous than conventional trucks and undermine sustainable alternatives, more studies are being carried out. There are overwhelming public opposition, with 81 per cent of the French, 73 per cent of Germans, 85 per cent of the Swiss and 75 per cent of the British opposing mega trucks. The danger is that mega trucks could effectively become travelling warehouses, adding to long distance road congestion, freight emissions and exposure to road accidents.

A national framework

The coalition government is currently considering options to restructure the railways including regional sectorisation and vertical integration, as part of its Value for Money study designed to recommend how to reduce the running costs of the railways. In this context, it is vital to recognise that rail freight needs a national network to prosper as it needs to compete with road freight which has a national network that it can, by and large, access when it needs to.

The nature of freight distribution means that rail freight flows often cross several regional boundaries so a national rail network is a crucial element in proving a robust, reliable flexible service to customers.

The interim review, issued in early December, stated that the rights of freight and open access operators will be safeguarded, which is crucial, but could be difficult to deliver if the passenger train operating companies (TOCs) are given control over track and train operations, as in reality you cannot legislate for or contract every aspect of behaviour.

For rail freight to prosper, national operating conditions need to be retained. For example, nation-wide pathing and coordination of timetabling and engineering works and strategic reservations needs to be maintained.

Given the coalition government stated commitments to reduce carbon emissions and stimulate the green economy, it is crucial that any restructuring of Network Rail helps, rather than hinders, the continued growth of rail freight. As it is not a level playing field between the various modes’ increases in freight access, charges would make it even harder for rail freight to compete.

Supporting continued growth
The Campaign for Better Transport research states that road freight is only paying between one to two thirds of the costs it imposes on society. The rail freight operators are therefore asking that in any structural changes to the industry, the national network is retained and the following key attributes that support continued growth in rail freight are protected and enhanced:
• National charging that keeps rail freight competitive with road
• Timetabling of cross-route trains
• Strategic reservation of capacity to enable rail freight growth
• Coordination of engineering work over core and diversionary routes (which typically traverse an alternative region) and subsequent timetabling
• Incentives to react quickly to develop new business
• Day to day performance management of trains over borders
• National performance and possessions regime
• Approvals process for introduction of new rolling stock on a national scale

Continued growth in rail freight will support many coalition objectives laid out in its programme for government especially in supporting the overall economy, reducing road congestion and reducing carbon emissions as long as the restructuring of Network Rail does not damages the efficiency of the network and the service rail freight customers receive.

The reality is if the country is to achieve the 80 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions the government is committed to, by 2050, freight emissions have to be controlled – rail, which is popular with the public, safe and produces 70 per cent less carbon dioxide than the equivalent road journey, can help achieve this. The simple statistic which shows that an average freight train can remove the equivalent of 50 long-distance HGV journeys from our roads clearly illustrate what rail freight contributes to our economy and society.

Members of Freight on Rail are Direct Rail Services, DB Schenker, Freightliner, ASLEF, RMT, TSSA, UNITE, Rail Freight Group and Campaign for Better Transport.

For more information:

Web: www.freightonrail.org.uk

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