Union anger at ‘disastrous’ new rail freight charges

09 August 2012

Train drivers’ union ASLEF says increased charges being proposed for rail freight are inherently unjust and could effectively mean the end of the industry.

The union says road freight has ‘a vast range of in-built advantages which should be addressed, not encouraged’. It points out that road haulage only pays two charges - an annual road tax (VED) and fuel duty.

‘Rail freight on the other hand is already subject to seven separate charges,’ Mick says. ‘It also pays on the basis of distance travelled, a concept that is constantly rejected for road. At the very least the goal posts should be the same width.’

The rail regulator ORR says the new charge is to ensure that freight covers all costs that would have been avoided if rail freight had not used the infrastructure. ‘It is grossly unjust that this formula is applied to rail but not to lorries on roads,’ Mick says. ‘There is evidence that lorries are up to 160,000 times more damaging to roads than the average car and that Heavy Goods Vehicles only pay between one to two thirds of the costs they impose on society. So the taxpayer effectively subsidises road haulage and offers rail freight nothing.

‘This flies in the face of government commitments to the environment. Rail freight is central to delivering their targets as rail freight produces 70% less Carbon Dioxide than road haulage and currently takes 6.7million road journeys a year off the roads – yet it the industry is offered virtually no subsidies, no incentives and no encouragement.

‘If these proposals go through, rail freight could go the way of the steam locomotive,’ says Mick Whelan. ‘It is a bizarre way to treat an industry that has led to a decrease in road traffic accidents and congestion, helped the environment and boosted the economy.’

The union also challenges the right of the rail regulator ORR to even raise the question of increased charging. ‘The Department for Transport says a key role of the network is to support the growth of freight services and the ORR is charged with ‘helping the mainline railway meet the long term challenges’,’ Mick says. ‘These measures contradict this completely as they would restrict and limit rail freight expansion in favour of road transport.’

The final date for submissions to the ORR on the proposals is Friday 10 August. The full ASLEF submission is available to see here

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