Transport Minister outlines demand for continued rail freight growth at RFG gathering

Speaking at the annual Rail Freight Group (RFG) Christmas Lunch, the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt. Hon. Patrick McLoughlin MP, referred to rail as the backbone of the economy and that any decline in coal or steel traffic should not prevent the sector’s continued growth.

The government has promised to continue supporting the growth of the rail freight sector by pushing through key capability and capacity enhancement projects, as part of a huge ongoing investment programme.

The Minister said: “The industry is changing and I know change can be difficult.  I know that coal and steel traffic has been a big part of freight’s business and there are uncertainties about the future but that should not prevent growth.  You simply cannot grow an economy without moving goods around the country reliably and affordably.

“We want rail freight to grow much further because demand is going to keep increasing.  The problem in the past has been the lack of flexibility.  It is difficult to expand when there is no room on the railways and we’re investing to create new room, with some important improvements including gauge clearance on strategic routes and improving access to ports.

Mr McLoughlin further stated: “The story of our modern rail industry is amazing and freight is key part of that.  In the last year freight has carried goods worth over £30 billion, tonnage is up 80 per cent since 2003, there has been continued growth in intermodal, rail has helped remove traffic off the roads and of course been crucial in cutting carbon emissions.

“In fact, since privatisation the sector is carrying two thirds more freight but with fewer than a third of the train paths.  That’s helped us squeeze far more out of the infrastructure and increase the value of rail freight in the UK economy to around £1.6 billion a year.

“Our delivery programme for the future is ambitious.  We are making the largest investment in the rail network since Victorian times with £38 billion for Network Rail in this control period, as part of a massive 50 per cent increase in transport investment during this parliament.  I think we can be hugely optimistic about the industry’s future.  We would not be investing on such ambitious scales if we weren’t.”

RFG Chairman, Tony Berkeley, added: “Despite challenges in coal and steel, rail freight remains a vibrant, innovative and growing sector.  It has enjoyed support across government throughout the year and I want to thank everyone who has contributed to its success.  I would like to wish all of our members a prosperous 2016.

The annual RFG Christmas Lunch is one of the highlights of the rail freight calendar and this year welcomed some 850 guests from across the sector.  On the day, £6,450 was also raised through the organisation’s champagne raffle for Shelter, the RFG’s chosen Christmas charity.