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Maggie Simpson Director General, RFG

Eyes on the prize

Rail Freight Group welcomes the Government’s pledge to grow rail freight by at least 75 per cent by 2050 but this will require a concerted effort from customers and the industry, as well as Network Rail and the Government, if the target is to be delivered, says Maggie Simpson, RFG’s Director General.

The announcement at the end of last year by the Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper admitted that the target was ‘ambitious’ but listed the benefits as: boosting economic growth and leading to significant environmental benefits by taking lorries off the roads, cutting emissions and congestion in the process.

He added: “Rail freight helps keep this country moving, ensuring our supermarket shelves are stocked and materials are supplied to our construction workers. Not only is it the most efficient and environmentally friendly way of transporting many goods but it helps grow the economy across the country. This ambitious plan demonstrates this Government’s confidence in the rail freight sector and I hope it encourages businesses to capitalise on the extra opportunities so the industry continues to thrive and deliver for our country.”

We welcome the publication of this target, which sends a strong message of support for rail freight from Government. We know from our members that shippers and rail freight customers want to move more goods by rail, as they look to further decarbonise their supply chains. This target will help create confidence to underpin their investments and help the industry develop and grow.

Our members have been involved in helping the Government move towards establishing this target. In 2022, the Great British Railways Transition Team (GBRTT) launched a call for evidence “to inform the design and development of the rail freight growth target”. It aimed to further understand market demand, opportunities for rail freight growth, challenges to delivering growth, drivers of customers’ logistics decisions and, finally, views on the design of a growth target. It received a strong response from a wide range of backgrounds including freight operating companies, rail industry bodies, current rail freight customers, potential customers who have never used rail freight and transport authorities.

The team said the responses confirmed that there is significant scope to increase rail’s share of the freight market, with many considering rail freight growth and the rail industry’s role in meeting net zero targets important. There was a willingness to use rail if barriers can be overcome. Most respondents saw greater use of rail freight as a viable solution for reducing carbon emissions and many wanted to transfer at least part of their supply chain to rail. The barriers that both potential customers and current customers who wanted to increase their use of rail freight perceived included network capacity and capability, journey time and cost.

The Government, after consideration of the GBRTT analysis, has established a rail freight growth target of at least 75 per cent in freight moved. However, it says: “We are clear that this is a highly ambitious target. Rail freight in recent years has experienced limited growth. Achieving growth of 75 per cent would be a sea change – supporting compound annual growth of around 2.3 per cent – and ensuring a robust, sustainable and growing sector into the future. The target is also not a ceiling and the industry should be ambitious for growth beyond the target.”

The Government hopes that the target will encourage further private sector investment in projects that will grow and modernise the industry. RFG members have long invested in the rail freight sector and we recognise that such an ambitious increase will require continued investment by Government into capacity upgrades across the network. We look forward to further commitments to give rail freight the help it needs to achieve its new growth target.

For more information, please visit: www.rfg.org.uk

  • Rail
  • Supply Chain