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Freight operators and parliamentarians out in force at Commons reception to highlight freight opportunities

24 March 2023
  • A Rail Partners reception at the House of Commons welcomed guests from across parliament and industry, including rail minister, Huw Merriman MP, and shadow business and industry minister, Bill Esterson, to discuss the benefits, opportunities and potential of rail freight.
  • The event follows publication of Rail Partners’ report, Freight Expectations: How rail freight can support Britain’s economy and environment. 
  • Rail minister, Huw Merriman, made clear that Government was committed to setting a freight target for Great British Railways, but would not yet commit to the scale of that target. 

Freight operators and their customers gathered with parliamentarians including Rail Minister, Huw Merriman MP, at the House of Commons on Tuesday evening (21 March) at the Rail Partners Freight Reception to discuss the benefits and opportunities of rail freight for Britain, now and in the future.

Jointly hosted by Daniel Zeichner MP (Labour, Cambridge) and Martin Vickers MP (Conservative, Cleethorpes, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group), the reception followed the publication earlier this month of Rail Partners’ report Freight Expectations: How rail freight can support Britain's economy and environment. The report identified a potential economic benefit to the UK economy of nearly £5.2 bn annually, should government set an ambitious target to treble rail freight by 2050.

The report also found that due to recent innovations in the freight sector, a typical freight service produces 76% less CO2 per tonne than the equivalent movement by road and a single freight service can remove up to 129 HGVs at a time – helping to deliver decarbonisation, improve air quality and reduce road congestion.

The event put a spotlight on the importance of the rail freight sector to the economy and environment, with cross-party speakers sharing examples of where investment in rail infrastructure is needed to support rail freight across the country.

Speaking at the event rail minister, Huw Merriman MP told attendees the findings in Freight Expectations  had reemphasised the importance of a long-term growth target for freight and that Government was committed to setting that target to deliver certainty for the industry. However, he would not yet commit to the scale of the target, instead commenting that the Great British Railways Transition Team were examining the evidence submitted by the sector and developing options ahead of an announcement later in the year.

Attendees also heard from the shadow minister for business and industrial strategy, Bill Esterson MP, who emphasised Labour’s commitment to working with the rail sector to deliver infrastructure investments, including HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, as part of their industrial strategy. He explained that the projects were set to provide not just speed, but also vital capacity, and would serve the economy while meeting climate commitments.

Highlighting the benefits identified by the Freight Expectations report, Rail Partners’ chief executive Andy Bagnall, said: 

‘We can deliver a minimum of over £5 bn of economic benefits annually and remove 20 million HGVs from the road network each year. In the report, we set out the policy framework that's necessary for government to work in partnership with the industry to deliver that. 

‘With the right government support, working in partnership with our freight operating members, it will enable them to respond to the needs of the wider business community as a critical part of a sustainable supply chain.’ 

Speaking about the contribution of freight and the findings in the report, keynote speaker, Becky Lumlock, chief executive of rail freight operator, Freightliner said: 

‘Rail freight transports a vast array of essential goods and supplies.  Our customers range from shipping lines to supermarkets, from quarries to car factories and from waste companies to whiskey manufacturers. We are linking companies across the country with export markets all over the world. The environmental and economic benefits of moving these critical goods are substantial, and the new freight report outlines how the sector delivers economic growth, supports our journey to net zero and contributes to levelling-up. 

‘I strongly believe that there is a bigger role that rail freight can play in supporting UK plc, which is why we’re calling for the Government to set an ambitious long-term target to treble volumes by 2050.  That would be a real step-change.’ 

Notes to editors

Access photos from the reception here: https://media.railpartners.co.uk/resources/f/freight-reception-photos  

Download Freight Expectations: How rail freight can support Britain's economy and environmenthere: https://media.railpartners.co.uk/resources/freight-expectations

Infographics showcasing the key findings from the report are available here: https://media.railpartners.co.uk/resources/f/freight-expectations-infographics  

Reception speakers: 

  • Martin Vickers MP (Chair of All Party Parliamentary Rail Group) 
  • Andy Bagnall, Chief Executive, Rail Partners 
  • Bill Esterson MP, Shadow Minister for Business and Industry 
  • Becky Lumlock, Chief Executive, Freightliner
  • Huw Merriman MP, Minister for Rail
  • Daniel Zeichner MP
About Rail Partners

Rail Partners exists to make the railway better by harnessing the expertise and creativity of private sector operators for the benefit of those who use the railway, passengers and freight customers, and those who pay for it, including taxpayers.  

Rail Partners provides advocacy and policy solutions for its private sector passenger owning Group and freight company members. Rail Partners additionally provides technical services to train operating companies in both the public and private sectors. 

A full list of our owning group and freight operating members can be found here: https:/www.railpartners.co.uk/the-partners

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