There are five main freight operating companies, the largest of which is DB Cargo. The other major companies in the rail freight sector are Freightliner Intermodal, Freightliner Heavy Haul , Direct Rail Services (DRS) and GB Railfreight.
Types of freight carried include intermodal — in essence containerised freight — and coal, metals, oil, and construction material.
Freight services saw a steady decline after the 1950s which halted in the 90s. Rail freight was increasingly recognised as an economically attractive and environmentally efficient form of transport and the sector became a significant and growing part of the national economy. Network Rail state that total volumes increased by over 65% from 13 billion net tonne kilometres in 1995/96 to over 22 billion in 2014/15. It has been estimated that in 2013/14 rail freight delivered productivity, congestion and environmental benefits totalling over £1.6 billion per year to the British economy. 2015/16 total volumes are over 30% above 1995/96 levels.
The Freight Market Study published in 2013 projected annual growth in total rail freight volumes of about 3% per annum to 2043. Intermodal volumes were forecast to increase by over 5% per annum, construction volumes were forecast to grow by 1% per annum.
Unfortunately, government policy on the taxation of coal has led to a fall in rail freight traffic. This is currently putting members’ jobs at risk of non-voluntary redundancy for the first time in generations. ASLEF is working to ensure we support our members as much as possible to reduce the effect of this downturn.
As rail freight produces 76% less CO2 emissions than the equivalent HGV journey, increasing rail freight is an important part of the DfT’s policy to reduce freight’s emissions and help the UK meet its legally binding Climate Change targets.
HGVs contribute 17 per cent of surface access CO2 emissions, despite making up only 5 per cent of road vehicles whereas both passenger and freight rail together contribute less than 2 per cent.
The Economic Case
Road congestion is claimed to cost businesses £17 billion per annum whilst an average freight train can remove 60 HGVs journeys from our roads. DfT estimate the cost of congestion being £0.99 per lorry miles on the most congested roads.
HGVs are also very inefficient. Government figures show that nationally almost 30 per cent of lorries are driving around completely empty and overall HGVs are around 50% loaded. It should also be noted that HGVs are paying less than a third of the costs they impose on society.
Heavy goods vehicles cost the UK economy £6.5bn each year in increased road crashes, dirty air, pot holes and other impacts. HGVs are five times more likely than cars to be involved in fatal accidents on local roads and pay almost nothing for their contributions to air pollution.
The Safety Case
Rail freight is far safer than road freight. ORR states that rail is 20 times safer than roads. In 2014, on motorways, HGVs were involved in almost half (45%) of fatal collisions although they only accounted for 11.6% of the miles driven on them.
HGVs frequently fail to comply with road regulations. HGVs had a 61% overloading rate in road side checks in 2011, 60% in 2012, 59% in 2013 and 2014.
In London, 79 per cent of fatal collisions with cyclists in the past three years have involved lorries.