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Why rail freight matters

Rail freight plays a significant part in Britain’s economy right now.

In 2002/03 rail moved around 43.5 million tonnes of goods to and from our ports. Rail transports coal that produces over one quarter of our electricity; it moves around one third of metal products in Britain and 80% of the stone used for construction in London. Without rail freight commerce would grind to a halt and the lights would go out.

The demand for rail freight is growing. The main reasons for this are:

  • The advent of lorry road user charging.
  • The restriction of lorry drivers’ hours caused by the adoption of the European Working Time Directive.
  • Ever-worsening road traffic congestion.

Unlike passenger transportation, rail freight operates fully in the private sector. The rail freight industry has developed over the years and has been busy stripping out costs while increasing efficiency and has attracted over £1.5 billion of private investment since 1997.

It is extremely competitive, commercially driven and customer focused.

There are now a number of rail freight operating companies competing vigorously to deliver the best service for customers. The major players are DB Schenker Rail (formerly English Welsh and Scottish Railway), Freightliner, GB Railfreight, Direct Rail Services and Colas Rail.

Rail freight is a remarkable success story. In the past ten years it has grown by almost 50%, increasing its market share of surface transport to 11.5% and in so doing removing thousands of lorries from Britain’s roads. In 2002/03 alone, rail freight moved the equivalent of 5.6 million lorry journeys and saved 1.4 billion lorry kilometres and a growth of just under 30% is forecast through to 2014/15.

Rail freight delivers value-for-money for the taxpayer. The vast majority of rail freight runs without any Government support. Where public investment is made it is in return for environmental benefits and is often matched by private money.

Demystifying the rail freight sector

The Rail Freight Group (RFG) is a member-based trade association and works hard to encourage people to get into the sector and to help businesses examine whether it is right for their supply chains.

As more retailers, manufacturers and shippers look for alternative methods of moving goods around the UK, moving away from traditional road transport, areas of rail freight has enjoyed strong growth even through the worst of the recession.

Many companies already recognise the environmental benefits of using rail freight and its potential to contribute to reducing road congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

However, for many other companies the rail freight sector as a bit of a mystery, closed off and often with too many hurdles to get into. During 2011, the RFG and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK) has been working to help combat some of these issues, and to dissolve some of the myths that surround the sector, in order to enable more people than ever to explore whether rail is right for them.

Rail freight is part of the solution to help keep Britain’s economy moving. If you would like to know more about getting into the rail freight sector, why not contact the Rail Freight Group (RFG) on 020 3116 0007 or visit their website.

About the Author

  • About Lord Anthony Fitzhardinge-Gueterbock: Lord Anthony Fitzhardinge-Gueterbock, 18th Baron Berkeley – usually known as Tony Berkeley, is chairman of the Rail Freight Group (representative body of the UK freight group) and a member of the House of Lords. He was Public Affairs Manager of Eurotunnel

Lord Anthony Fitzhardinge-Gueterbock

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