Port of Felixstowe.

UK: Rail Partners has called on the government to implement five policies that would enable rail to play a greater role in decarbonisation of the logistics sector and would give freight operators and customers the confidence to invest in assets.

Targeted schemes supporting rail freight growth

On March 1 the association of train operators and owning groups published a report outlining rail’s environmental advantages over road. Freight Expectations: How Rail Freight Can Support Britain’s Economy & Environment is based on analysis by Aether, the University of Hull’s Logistics Institute and Railfreight Consulting.

The report says that as part of rail reform:

  • government should set an ambitious target to treble rail freight tonne-km by 2050, with shorter-term targets linked to Great British Railways’ five-year funding periods;
  • a stable and affordable access, charging and performance regime should be retained, enabling private operators to invest in assets with lifespans in excess of 30 years, and with the Office of Rail & Road retaining strong regulatory oversight to ensure GBR does not favour passenger operations;
  • rail must make the best use of existing capacity, exploiting opportunities to run longer, heavier and more direct services, and assessing whether shifts in passenger demand could unlock capacity for additional freight services;
  • targeted infrastructure investments are required to create capacity for freight growth. Noting that ‘it is not where the concrete is poured but rather the services that are unlocked’, the report says the Ely Area Capacity Enhancement as part of the wider Felixstowe to Nuneaton upgrade would offer national benefits by opening up a substantial increase in intermodal services from the East Anglian ports. It also argues that there is a strong case for infill electrification schemes including the London Gateway and Felixstowe branches;
  • incentives including the Mode Shift Revenue Support scheme and Freight Facilities Grant should be expanded to make rail the mode of choice for customers. Incentives to increase the use of low-carbon fuels such as HVO should also be considered.

‘We welcome recent commitments to deliver rail reform and must now focus on the detail’, explained Rail Partners CEO Andy Bagnall. ‘Setting an ambitious rail freight growth target — underpinned by legislation — is critical to capturing the benefits that a vibrant rail freight sector can offer.’ However, the association emphasised that ‘realising an ambitious target to treble freight will require a largely private rail freight sector to work in partnership with government.’

Rail Partners’ members include Colas Rail, DB Cargo, DRS, Freightliner and GB Railfreight which between them move almost all British rail freight.