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Reducing freight CO2 emissions

Philippa Edmunds's picture
Direct Rail Services Tesco traffic which produces 87 per cent less CO2 emissions than HGVs

The Department for Transport will be giving a thorough review of the carbon emissions caused by freight. This is a great opportunity to highlight the many problems with truck freight and the benefits rail can offer, and we'll be playing a part in making sure these issues are covered.

There are significant opportunities to reduce freight’s emissions so it is welcome that the Department for Transport (DfT) has initiated this review to feed into the DECC carbon budget 5 which has to be finalised by the end of this year.

Given that HGVs produce 22 per cent of transport’s CO2 land transport emissions while only accounting for 5 per cent of vehicles it is crucial that more freight be transferred to rail and that HGVs become more efficient. While road haulage has long been competitive, load efficiency has not improved significantly nor has empty running which remains at around 28 per cent of HGVs.  Improving load utilisation and reducing the number of empty lorries driving around our congested roads would represent a massive win/win for the haulage industry, the economy and society.

The Review’s areas of work

The Review will focus on six particular areas:

  • Modal shift- see details below 
  • Final Mile
  • Logistics 
  • Efficiency Autonomous passenger and freight vehicles which is being led by Centre for Connecting Autonomous vehicles, a BIS/DfT initiative looking at the full range of vehicles including platooning HGVs over the next three years. 
  • Alternative fuels
  • Hybrid vehicles

Additionally, introducing CO2 standards for trucks is a key measure as it alone could reduce HGV emissions by up to 30 per cent according to the EU, which is working with the industry to agree software to measure CO2 emissions. So we will continue to press the Department for Transport, which does highlight the value of truck standards in its Freight Carbon Review, to get fully behind this EU initiative on which a proposal is expected later this year. CO2 standards for HGVs are long overdue as truck manufacturers have failed to significantly improve truck efficiency over the past 20 years. It makes sense as it can help the UK Government meet its legally binding climate change targets as well as reducing operator costs.

As part of this drive to reduce freight’s emissions, the Department is writing a rail freight strategy in recognition that the best way to reduce freight emissions is to transfer as much freight to rail given that rail produces 87 per cent less CO2 emissions than the equivalent truck journey. This is a policy from Claire Perry, the Rail Minister, which we fully support.

I am on the working party compiling the rail freight strategy which will have some key outputs such as:

  • Updated rail/road carbon and air quality emissions
  • Better integration on rail freight policies between both units within DfT and working with other departments
  • Developing options for strategic freight capacity
  • Giving confidence to rail freight industry about getting HS2 released capacity
  • Updated market forecasts

Rail freight has a key role in providing a safer low carbon distribution solution for business; Government support through this strategy and continued upgrades to the Strategic Rail Freight Network are crucial in getting private sector investment behind key sectors such as consumer, construction and automotive markets.