Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, rail freight has kept the country supplied with essential goods from ports and around the country.
Now, new independent research has shown that the total economic and social benefits of rail freight are valued at £2.5 billion annually, with the areas benefiting most including Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales.
Containerised goods, which include groceries, components and electronics, is the largest category of freight, with rail offering a more reliable and greener transport alternative to an increasing number of businesses. In addition, rail freight moves vast quantities of aggregates and cements from quarries into cities and other conurbations, playing a vital role in supporting Britain to build back better.
Altogether, the rail freight sector is cutting Britain’s carbon footprint by preventing seven million HGV journeys per year.
The report, ‘The role and value of rail freight in the UK’, which has been published by the Rail Delivery Group and is based on independent research by Deloitte, uses a new framework to calculate the value of different types of freight paths. The model shows that each rail freight path on the network has an economic value of up to £1.5 million per year and highlights the benefits that could be realised by transporting more goods by rail.
The study found that freight trains are transporting more consumer items, including groceries, cars and electronics than ever before. The volumes of building materials moved by rail have also continued to grow, supplying construction materials to improve the road network, build new houses and even for our DIY projects. Moving vast quantities of materials such as aggregates and cement is vital to building and infrastructure projects and supporting Britain to build back better.
As Britain begins a new era outside the EU, increasing rail freight will help to cut customs queues at ports with government recently granting funding to create a new customs approval area at an inland rail freight terminal, a proposal first made by the Rail Delivery Group in 2018. The rail freight sector has played a crucial role in the national response to Covid-19 and following the end of the EU transition period, helping to keep goods moving securely and the economy ticking.
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, 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.”
Each tonne of freight transported by rail produces 76% less carbon emissions compared to road and with a freight train carrying as much as 110 lorries, an increase in rail freight will not only shrink Britain’s carbon footprint but cut traffic jams too.
The Deloitte research shows that rail freight is tackling gridlock and pollution in England’s most congested city, removing as many as 1,000 lorries from London’s roads every day with similar benefits for cities across the UK.