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Invest in rail freight to cut road congestion, research shows

21 April 2017

New research shows that sending more goods by rail has the potential to dramatically reduce road congestion on some of the country’s busiest trunk roads.  

The research, by consultants MTRU for Campaign for Better Transport and sponsored by the Department for Transport, looked at the economic benefits of using the railways to solve road congestion and improve productivity. In particular, the research examined the potential of increasing rail freight capacity along four heavily congested freight routes: the A14 between Felixstowe and the Midlands, the A34 from Southampton to the Midlands, and the M6 and M62 motorways. The two A roads have up to 6,500 of the largest HGVs (5 and 6 Axle articulated lorries) on the corridors each day, between 10 per cent and 17 per cent of all traffic, and the M6 motorway has over 13,500 of the largest HGVs a day and on the M62 over 11,000. This represents 10-12 per cent of all traffic on the two motorway sections.

The research found that upgrading existing rail lines, which run parallel to the motorway routes and are currently nearing full capacity, would allow large numbers of these lorry loads to be transferred to rail. This would help road congestion - because of the extra road space taken by lorries, transferring 2000 lorry loads a day to rail would be the equivalent of taking 8000 cars off the road.  As more rail freight interchanges become operational there is further scope to transfer traffic to rail. For example, the existing strategic rail freight interchange at Daventry removes 23 million HGV miles a year, most of which would otherwise be on trunk roads.

Campaign for Better Transport is calling on the Government to use the findings of this research to feed into its future road and rail investment strategies, now in preparation, and in particular to support continued investment in the Strategic Rail Freight Network.

Philippa Edmunds, from Campaign for Better Transport, said: “This research confirms what we have long argued, that integrated rail and road planning is the best way to reduce road congestion, collisions and pollution. It shows that on certain strategic transport corridors it is possible to improve road conditions without needing to add more road capacity.”

The Government’s own 2014 policy statement on national networks claimed that even doubling rail freight would only reduce road freight by 7 per cent (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/387223/npsnn-web.pdf, pars 2.21).

Philippa Edmunds said: “This latest research demonstrates the importance of analyzing strategic corridors as well as using national averages in transport planning. It shows the extent to which upgrading the rail freight network on key strategic corridors ameliorates road congestion and therefore improve productivity. Transferring freight from road to rail would bring serious additional benefits not quantified in this report - improved road safety and reduced air pollution and carbon emissions - these should also be considered."


For further information please contact Richard Watkins on 020 7566 6494 / 07984 773 468 or richard.watkins@bettertransport.org.uk

The author of the report, Keith Buchan of MTRU, is available for technical queries on 0208 994 0900 or email k.buchan@mtru.com

Notes to Editors

  • Read the research by MTRU here - Impact on congestion of transfer of freight from road to rail on key strategic corridors
  • The largest HGVs (5+ axles) make far more longer distance trips –  a quarter of all their trips are over 300 kms and a half over 200 km.  Source. CSRGT data. These large HGVs (5 and 6 axle artics) accounted for more than 50 per cent of HGVs averaging 11 per cent of all traffic on the sections of the network studied.
  • Rail freight could be increase by 50 or 60 per cent on both the A14 and A34 within the next five-seven years based on a combination of current funded CP5 Network Rail projects and the as yet unfunded proposals in the Network Rail Freight Network Study for the Control Period 6 until 2024. Further network upgrades to meet the full DfT benchmark of transferring 2000 HGVs daily would be required beyond 2024 which would also allow the rail freight operators time to further develop the rail market to meet the DfT benchmark.
  • Train lengthening projects which increase capacity are already being implemented with more planned which have been taken into account in the report. There is also work on smart freight paths which the report covers.
  • Three methods were used for analysing the volumes of HGVs to underpin the report – DfT count data (Annual Average Daily flows) at sites along the chosen corridors shows year by year results and type of and size of vehicle. GB Freight model (GBFM) gave information on a combination of origins and destinations likely routing and trip lengths and the CSRGT statistics showed trip lengths by size of HGVs nationally.
  • While this study considers each corridor separately, the creation of capacity in several corridors at once, plus a network of Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges (SRFIs), would create additional opportunities to transfer traffic, particularly from the ports, not captured in this analysis.
  • Campaign for Better Transport is the UK's leading authority on sustainable transport. We champion transport solutions that improve people's lives and reduce environmental damage. Our campaigns push innovative, practical policies at local and national levels. Campaign for Better Transport