Your guide to rail freight

Positioned at the heart of the rail freight industry, we’re one of the leading authorities on freight. If you’re keen to learn more about how goods move by rail, you’ve come to the right place.

Rail freight is reliable, safe and sustainable

Rail freight facts and figures

More freight is carried on rail than you think

In the year ending Thursday 31 March 2022, 78 million tonnes of freight was carried on Britain’s railway. This amounts to goods worth about £30bn1. To see the monthly figures, visit the ORR’s rail freight usage page.

Rail freight contributes to the national – and local – economy

The total economic and social benefits of rail freight are valued at £2.45bn every year2. Unlike many sectors that are concentrated in the southeast of the country, rail freight brings significant value for areas in the north of England, Scotland and Wales – where the railway has some of its busiest sections and is home to the headquarters of many freight operators.

Rail freight is consistently reliable

The 2021/2022 Outturns for both Arrivals to Fifteen (A2F). and Freight Delivery Metric (FDM) were consistently high:

  • FDM – 93.5 per cent
  • A2F – 85.9 per cent

Safe – and always looking to improve

Britain’s rail freight industry is regarded as one of the safest in the world. We know that improvements can always be made, and in recent years, we have invested more than £20m in improving the safety of the freight on the railway. We’ve also been working hard to prevent trespassers accessing the railway – securing our own infrastructure and advising the freight industry on protecting theirs.

The Rail Safety and Standards Board has recently stated that a train journey is more than 20 times safer than travelling the same distance by car. These findings support the safety argument for carrying goods by rail, where the number of incidents is a fraction of those caused by lorries.

Rail freight for businesses

Getting your goods onto rail

If you want to join the growing number of businesses using rail freight in their supply chain, a good place to start is our Move my freight by rail page.

Trying out rail freight before you commit

You can work with a freight operating company (FOC) to create a plan. They will arrange the train service and work with us to secure a temporary path (if there’s no existing freight route).

A sustainable choice

Rail freight is very sustainable. In fact, a single freight train can replace 76 lorries – so by adding rail freight to your supply chains you can significantly reduce your business’s carbon footprint.

Regulated by the ORR

The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) regulates the rail industry. It is a non-ministerial government department, which means it has a degree of independence in its work and decision-making.

Funding, investment and decision-making

The Department for Transport (DfT) is the ultimate decision-maker on funding for the railway. We receives funding from DfT, Transport Scotland and other public bodies. We liaise with the rail freight industry and other stakeholders in deciding where to invest these funds. The private sector also invests in the infrastructure, contributing over £2bn since the 1990s.

Our role in the rail freight sector

We’re here to help rail freight flow and grow. This means managing and improving the infrastructure (the track, bridges, tunnels and viaducts) and keeping the railway running efficiently, safely and delivering value for our customers. Our freight team works closely with FOCs and other operators on the railway to make sure that freight runs harmoniously with passenger services, and we work hard to balance their needs.

Career opportunities in rail freight

Rail Freight matters and you could play a part. A career within our team is rewarding – not only are we helping to move huge volumes of goods around the country, but we’re also putting Britain on the path to a more sustainable future. To find our latest vacancies, please visit our careers page.

Did you know?

One in four sea containers arriving at Britain’s ports is carried inland by rail1.

Recommended pages

  1. Rail freight Group: Facts and figures
  2. Rail Delivery Group ‘The role and value of rail freight in the UK’ April 2021
  3. ROSPA 2021: Road safety fact sheet