Traffic congestion is a problem that’s only getting worse, as more and more vehicles take to the roads. But it’s not just the main arteries of our road system that’s feeling the burden; motorways aren’t the only roads seeing heavy traffic as freight vehicles deliver not just nationally, but also locally. 44 tonne trucks, struggling over hills or limited to lower speeds on single lane A roads are a familiar sight, but why is the freight they’re carrying going by road instead of rail?
It may come as a surprise to know just how much freight is currently moved by rail, mostly because the extra long freight trains generally move at night when the tracks are quiet. Coal trains, so long they can take a good five minutes to go past, still serve power stations across the UK, operating over night or in the early morning hours before the first commuter trains begin. And it’s not just coal that’s being moved.
Currently, over 30% of commodities leaving Southern UK container ports are carried there by rail. Rail freight saves around £68 million per year in CO2 costs and £772 million in congestion costs. Unsurprisingly, the use of rail freight is only growing, rising by 10% in 2011-2012 compared to 2010-2011. That’s the most freight moved by rail since 2007-2008. With the Government committed to an 80% reduction in fuel emissions by 2050, rail freight is the best way to achieve that goal, producing 70% less carbon dioxide than the equivalent journey by road.
As rail freight moves in to consumer goods, companies are beginning to realise that moving by rail can bring many benefits to their businesses, not least the reduction of vehicles on an already over-burdened road network. While road improvements are planned for many major routes, particularly those that see a lot of road freight, rail freight is seeing it’s own improvements and it’s predicted that demand will have doubled by 2030.
Major retailers and supermarkets across the UK use rail freight to transport their goods from national distribution centres, out across the country to local stores. And rail freight can help move consignments locally, not just on long national journeys. For smaller, rural areas without the road network to support large vehicles, rail freight can help deliver on time and on budget, without the disruptive impact to our road systems.