The latest questionnaire from Brake, the national road safety charity, showed that 79 per cent of drivers are concerned for their safety about the amount of freight being transported on our motorways as lorry traffic on motorways reached a new peak of 7.9 billion vehicle miles in 2017. Furthermore, the same drivers are calling for further investment in railways to alleviate the pressure on the network. Freight may not have a vote but this report shows that drivers want to see more freight transferred to rail.
The relative safety costs of the different modes need to be taken into account. Government figures show that the HGV involvement rate on urban roads is almost six times the rate of cars (table RAS20005) with the Department for Transport valuing the prevention of each road fatality at £2 million (table RAS60001).
The Government may be unwise to pin its hopes on lorry platooning which is in its infancy; motoring organisations are opposed while the haulage industry remains sceptical and drivers opposed on safety grounds. The Brake survey found that more than three quarters of drivers interviewed (77 per cent) believe that truck platooning sounds frightening and that if it went wrong the causalities could be very high. Because our road network is so congested with frequent exits close together these safety fears are well-founded. Carbon gains may only be around five per cent whereas rail freight reduces carbon by 76 per cent per tonne carried. The Brake report highlighted that drivers have a deep-seated and genuine concern over their safety on motorways and are wary about the increase in freight traffic. It is urging the Government to take note of its report, prioritise safety over capacity and be aware of opposition to truck platooning.
The biggest issue facing rail freight is a shortage of infrastructure and space on the network which creates suppressed demand. Government investment to unblock pinch-points and improve the capability of the Strategic Freight Network is crucial to satisfy customer demand for rail freight.
Transferring more freight to the railways is a key part of making our roads, safer, cleaner and less congested so we urge the Government to support rail freight upgrades in line with public opinion.