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Rail freight delivers billions of pounds in benefits and could play a major role in reaching net-zero carbon emissions, according to research.

A report published this week by industry body Rail Delivery Group, based on research by accountancy Deloitte, shows rail freight delivers £2.5bn in economic and social benefits to the UK annually.

That means businesses all around the country benefit from reliable and economical transport services. They provide efficient routes to markets and better connectivity to ports, supporting access to markets around the world.

Each tonne of freight transported by rail produces 76% fewer carbon emissions compared with road.

With a freight train carrying as much as 110 lorries, an increase in rail freight would reduce Britain’s carbon footprint and cut traffic jams, too.

Meanwhile, rail freight is tackling gridlock and pollution in England’s most congested city, removing as many as 1,000 lorries from London’s roads every day with similar benefits for cities across the UK.

Rail freight on the tracks in the Redbridge area, daytime
Freight in Redbridge

Robert Nisbet, director of Nations and Regions for Rail Delivery Group, said: “Rail will play a central role in levelling up Britain and rail freight is already doing some heavy lifting, supporting businesses and jobs across the nations and regions. As we work to secure a green recovery from covid, encouraging more businesses to move their goods by train coupled with a rolling programme of electrification would see rail freight play an even bigger role in helping the nation to meet its carbon commitments.”

The study found freight trains are moving more consumer items, including groceries, electronics and cars and than ever, underscoring the importance of transporting such a huge volume of goods by an alternative to road traffic.

The amount of building materials transported by freight have also continued to grow, supplying construction materials to improve roads, build new houses and even for DIY projects. Moving building materials and cement is essential to construction and infrastructure projects, and helping Britain to build back better.

Covid response

Freight trains with Tesco supermarket logo, daytime

Rail freight was one of the hardest working parts of the railway last spring as the rail industry helped keep Britain running early in the pandemic.

Network Rail and freight operating companies responded to rising demand for goods like food, fuel and medicine.

The number of passenger services fell sharply as we have urged people to stay safe at home and prioritised freight trains. At the same time, customer demand for critical supplies like store cupboard items and toiletries surged.

Meanwhile, we worked hard to keep supermarkets supplied with food by working with suppliers on two new food routes from Valencia and Murcia into London.

DB Cargo UK and Transfesa Logistics launched an express 72-hour rail service to transport essential hygiene, medical and food products from terminals in Valencia and Murcia to London.

This type of traffic is carried in refrigerated containers and expanded the activity that Transfesa Logistics had so far operated on a national and international scale. The objective was to develop these railway operations with a daily train to keep supermarkets shelves stocked.

Jumbo train

In March, we shared how the heaviest freight train ever to run on the West Coast Main Line had made its first journey, from the Peak District to London, with essential construction materials.

On 17 March, the so-called jumbo service  hauled 3,600 tonnes of building materials 203 miles from Tarmac’s Tunstead quarry in Derbyshire to Wembley Yard in London.

Two Freightliner trains coupling together with a combined total length of 590 metres and consisting of 39 wagons.

Jumbo freightliner service on first West Coast Main Line journey

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Rail freight

Freight growth

Industry and commercial

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