rail freight uk

Rail freight growth explored to cut UK carbon emissions from goods transport

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A call for evidence has been issued on how to boost the amount of freight that is transported around the UK by rail as part of efforts to decarbonise the movement of goods by cutting the number of lorries on roads.

The Great British Railways Transition Team (GBRTT), which is a public body, is calling for a broad range of views on how to expand rail freight.

It is estimated rail freight currently accounts for just 10 per cent of surface freight although it generates about 76 per cent less carbon emissions compared to HGVs per tonne of goods transported.

GBRTT has called for a freight growth target to boost investment in the sector by setting a clear government ambition for growth. It said such a target would help the UK meet its legally binding greenhouse gas reduction targets.

If rail freight volumes treble by 2050, as modelling indicates could be required to meet the net-zero targets, then there would be about 14 million fewer road lorry movements a year than today.

Rail minister Wendy Morton said: “With freight playing a significant role in removing emissions from our transport network, this new growth target will be vital for creating a greener freight network as we continue to strive towards net zero.”

Helen McAllister, programme director at GBRTT, said: “Freight trains have a key role to play in a decarbonised logistics system, and there’s scope for the railway to do even more.

“Research suggests we could need to treble the amount of freight carried by rail to help meet net zero commitments. This would also cut road congestion for drivers and boost the economy.

“This call for evidence will help us understand how much of the current and future market demand for freight could be met by rail, how we can make it even more efficient and sustainable and how we can connect to new customers.”

Kate Jennings, policy director at Logistics UK, said: “When passenger numbers dropped as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, focus across the rail industry shifted to rail freight. But now, with passenger numbers returning, our sector will require support and investment to respond to customer demand.”

The call for evidence, which launches on 5 July 2022, will help GBRTT to understand the realistic volume of goods that could be transferred to rail; where the potential for future rail freight traffic exists and where new rail terminals could be needed.

Last year, the government unveiled the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail which forms a blueprint for future reform of the UK's rail industry. The Plan claims to propose the biggest change to the railways in 25 years, with the aim of bringing the network under a single national leadership of a new public body, Great British Railways.

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