Rail minister Paul Maynard has published the Government’s new Rail Freight Strategy, which sets out how the sector can continue to grow and take pressure off the road network.
Mr Maynard called rail freight ‘one of the great success stories of rail privatisation’, pointing out that since the 1990s the industry’s market share of freight transport has risen from around 5% to around 12%.
He said the strategy had developed out of a strong relationship between the rail freight industry and the Department for Transport and ‘sets out our vision for how rail freight can continue to grow, and how the broader logistics sector and rail industry can collaborate and innovate to help relieve pressure on the road network’.
Rail minister Paul Maynard
The document argues that shifting more freight to rail can make a real contribution to meeting the UK’s emissions targets but that ‘the full economic and carbon benefits of rail freight will only be realised if the industry is able to grow in key sectors and achieve its potential’.
It points out that structural changes in the market, ‘including the decline in traditional bulk rail freight commodities such as coal, along with changing patterns of consumption driven by the rise of internet shopping and next-day deliveries’, present challenges for the traditional operating model of rail freight.
The strategy identifies four priority areas ‘where further action by Government, industry and others could empower rail freight to achieve its potential’. These are: innovation and skills; network capacity; track access charging; and ‘telling the story of rail freight’ – selling the industry’s collective benefits.
Among the ‘innovative new models’ set out in the strategy are ‘parcels carried directly between and into city centres using the spare capacity on off-peak passenger services, or old rolling stock fully converted to carry freight into cities’.
The document points to the importance of ensuring that sufficient capacity is available on the rail network to accommodate growing demand for both passenger and freight services.
It notes that the Government can influence how the network is used in the way it specifies passenger franchises and pledges to review the current process ‘to identify where there is scope for the current and future requirements of rail freight to be more systematically considered’.
The strategy also recognises the role of sub-national transport bodies, including Transport for the North, which published its own freight and logistics strategy last week.
Campaign group Freight on Rail welcomed the strategy, including its recognition of rail freight’s ‘key role in offering the long-haul service to terminals and urban consolidation centres for transfer to low emissions road vehicles for the final mile delivery’.
Philippa Edmunds, Freight on Rail manager said: I’m pleased to see the Government’s Rail Freight Strategy puts rail freight centre stage in the drive to reduce road congestion and road crashes, and meet the UK’s climate change targets. There are huge economic, social and environmental benefits to rail freight and, with a clear Government policy framework now in place, industry should have the confidence to continue investing and innovating.’