Cynical politicians are sometimes dismissive of rail freight: 'Rail freight doesn't get a vote'. But a new YouGov poll shows that the public support rail over HGVs when it comes to freight - which makes sense as it reduces road congestion, pollution, road damage and fatal accidents.
The poll, commissioned by Campaign for Better Transport, shows that almost two thirds of the public (61%) want more freight on the railways with only two per cent wanting to see more freight on the roads.
Rail freight for consumer and construction markets is increasing - but is constrained by the lack of space on the rail network. The Government has just committed billions to upgrading roads but if it is mindful of public opinion it should upgrade the rail freight network too. The poll reveals that 63% of people support increasing Government funding to allow more freight trains on the rail network, with only three per cent opposing such measures.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is currently reviewing rail freight charges. In doing so, it must take the current market distortion into account: research by the Metropolitan Transport Research Unit shows that HGVs pay less than a third of the costs they impose in terms of congestion, fatalities, road damage and pollution. To address this market distortion, it's vital that the ORR gives rail freight affordable charges. The poll shows that only 12% of people are in favour of increasing rail freight charges.
The environmental benefits of rail freight should also be heeded. On 29 June, the Climate Change Committee stated that the new Government needs new plans to address climate change. HGVs contribute 17% of surface transport CO2 emissions, despite making up only five per cent of road vehicles. Meanwhile both passenger and freight rail together contribute less than two per cent. Rail freight produces 76% less CO2 per tonne carried than the equivalent HGV journey. It follows, then, that rail freight can play a key role in helping the UK meet its legally binding climate change targets.