The Latest Office of Rail and Road data provides insights into the usage and performance of rail freight in the UK for the period between April and June 2023.
Total freight moved during the quarter was 3.92 billion net tonne kilometres, showing a 1% decrease compared to the same period the previous year. This decline was particularly noticeable among most commodity groups. However, two sectors, intermodal maritime and construction, experienced increases of 7% and 13%, respectively.
The global container shipping stabilisation likely influenced the growth in intermodal maritime, while construction's boost was attributed to the ongoing HS2 project and other construction activities.
The total amount of freight lifted during the quarter was 17.3 million tonnes, reflecting a 6% reduction compared to the previous year. This marked the lowest April to June quarter in the time series, aside from the pandemic period. Coal lifting saw a significant 44% decrease, reaching its lowest quarterly total in the entire series due to reduced coal stockpiling for winter power shortages.
Freight punctuality, as measured by the Freight Delivery Metric, stood at 90.2% for the April to June 2023 period, the second lowest in the April to June time series since its inception in 2013. This figure was 0.3 percentage points higher than the previous year. However, the FDM moving annual average (MAA) remained at 86.0%, consistent with the MAA of the previous quarter, indicating a decline in freight punctuality since its peak in early 2021.
Freight operators faced 11.14 minutes of delay per 100 train kilometres during the quarter, marking a 19% increase from the previous year. This uptick in freight delay represented the worst April to June quarter performance in nine years, underscoring ongoing challenges within the rail freight system.
Freight operators recorded 7.90 million freight train kilometres, a 2% decrease from the previous year. Notably, Colas Freight experienced a substantial 43% increase in train kilometres, marking their highest value since the data series began in 2010. However, other major operators, such as DB Cargo UK and Freightliner Intermodal, saw reductions of 15% and 7%, respectively.
Freight operators recorded 173.62 million freight vehicle kilometres in the latest quarter. It decreased by 2% compared with the same quarter the previous year. There was an increase for four operators. Colas Freight’s vehicle kilometres more than doubled. Devon and Cornwall Railways had a large rise too, increasing by nearly a third. Both Colas Freight and Devon and Cornwall Railways recorded their respective highest value since the time series began in April 2010. Two of the three biggest operators, with the largest share of freight vehicle kilometres, saw decreases. DB Cargo UK had a reduction of 17% and Freightliner Intermodal had a reduction of 7%.
In summary, the latest statistics on rail freight usage and performance in Great Britain for the second quarter of 2023 paint a mixed picture. While there were notable increases in intermodal maritime and construction sectors, several other commodities experienced declines. Punctuality challenges persist, as indicated by the Freight Delivery Metric, and freight delays reached their highest levels in nine years. These findings highlight the need for continued efforts to improve the efficiency and reliability of the rail freight system while capitalising on opportunities for growth in key sectors.