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Rail freight has potential to boost UK economy by £5.2bn annually by 2050, says Rail Partners

01 March 2023
  • New analysis, commissioned by Rail Partners, shows if Government sets an ambitious target to treble rail freight by 2050, the sector will deliver nearly £5.2bn in economic benefits every year and take 20 million HGV journeys off the roads.
  • The research also shows that rail freight has a considerable environmental advantage over road freight today. A single freight train now removes up to 129 heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) off the road at a time, which helps to tackle congestion on roads up and down the country, while also reducing carbon emissions.
  • Rail Partners is calling on Government to work with its freight operator members to develop and implement key policies to enable rail freight to play a central role in the decarbonisation of the UK logistics sector.

Rail Partners – the trade body bringing together the five biggest freight operators who move 99% of the country’s rail freight – has launched a new report which reveals a growing rail freight market, supported by the right policies, can deliver significant economic and environmental benefits between now and 2050.

The report - Freight expectations: How rail freight can support Britain’s economy and environment - includes independent analysis by Aether, the University of Hull’s Logistics Institute and Railfreight Consulting which demonstrates rail freight’s continued environmental advantage over the road haulage sector. It also shows that, if the rail freight sector is supported by the right policy environment, it can flourish and help support a more prosperous, greener economy in the future. 

When comparing road and rail flows today, Aether concluded a typical freight service produces 76% less CO2 per tonne than the equivalent movement by road. By operating longer and heavier freight services, freight operators are significantly improving productivity and growing the freight market. Analysis shows these innovative services ease road congestion by removing up to 129 HGVs from the road network per train, while further enhancing rail freight’s carbon and air quality performance.

If Government sets an ambitious target to treble rail freight by 2050, the sector will deliver nearly £5.2bn in economic benefits as a minimum. It will also support road decongestion and improved air quality, with the sector forecast to remove the need for over 20 million HGV journeys annually.

Rail Partners’ chief executive, Andy Bagnall, said:

‘With the right support, rail freight can deliver for Britain – boosting the economy and reducing carbon emissions as well as improving air quality and reducing congestion, especially in cities.

‘We welcome recent commitments to deliver rail reform and must now focus on the detail. Setting an ambitious rail freight growth target - underpinned by legislation - is critical to capturing the benefits that a vibrant rail freight sector can offer.’

Morwen Mands, Head of Sustainability at Highland Spring Group - who feature within one of the case studies in the report and recently made an investment in a new rail connected facility - said:

‘Environmental sustainability has been at the heart of our business for over 40 years, and our new rail freight facility is a critical part of our commitment to tackling climate change and being a considerate neighbour to the local community.

‘We believe the landmark project in Blackford is an excellent example of the power of partnership working between the rail industry, government and business which will provide wider benefits to the Scottish environment and economy. We hope this facility inspires other businesses to explore using rail freight to support their own journey to net zero.’

Realising an ambitious target to treble freight will require a largely private rail freight sector to work in partnership with government. Freight operators and their customers will need to invest in new assets and infrastructure to grow and decarbonise the freight sector. To provide freight operators with the confidence to make these investments, Rail Partners and its members have called for government to deliver the following policy framework:

  • setting an ambitious growth target of trebling rail freight by 2050;
  • maintaining a stable access, charging and performance regime;
  • making optimal use of existing capacity on the rail network;
  • targeted infrastructure investments on areas of the network with high freight growth potential;
  • and an expansion of incentives to make rail the mode of choice for freight customers.
Notes to editors
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:

Freight Expectations
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