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Rail and distance charging better at cutting emissions than bigger lorries

7 April 2016

Campaign for Better Transport has responded to the publication of research by the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight (CSRF) recommending the introduction of larger, heavier lorries to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from road freight, with its own report which challenges a number of the CSRF’s findings.  

Campaign for Better Transport commissioned an independent researcher to examine the report’s findings and found that:

  • The report’s conclusion that bigger trucks could significantly reduce road freight’s emissions by increasing payloads and reducing the number of empty lorries on the roads relies on old, flawed research when there is in fact no evidence that larger or heavier lorries reduce emissions
  • The report underestimates by 50 per cent the potential to transfer freight to rail, which is hugely significant as rail freight produces 87 per cent less CO2 emissions than the equivalent road journey
  • The report failed to look at how the increased cost to society of bigger heavier trucks would be met, currently only 30 per cent of the costs that heavy goods vehicles impose on society are met by the industry
  • The report highlights the benefits of urban consolidation centres, but fails to recognise the benefits of rail connecting these centres so that long distance freight could be transferred directly from rail to last mile low emissions road vehicles.

Philippa Edmunds, Freight on Rail manager at Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Reducing emissions from freight transport is key to addressing the UK’s climate change targets, so it is extremely disappointing that this research advocates even bigger, heavier lorries which emit more carbon dioxide and impose even greater costs on the taxpayer. In order to reduce emissions from freight we need to get lorries off the road and start moving more freight by rail. We should also learn from the continent where distance-based charging systems and restrictions on what type of roads lorries can use and has helped to reduce emissions significantly.”

Campaign for Better Transport has written to the Climate Change Committee, which commissioned the research, to outline its concerns.


For further information please contact Alice Ridley on 020 7566 6495 / 07984 773 468 or alice.ridley@bettertransport.org.uk

Notes to Editors

  1. An assessment of the potential for demand-side fuel savings in the Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) sector was carried out by Centre for Sustainable Road Freight (CSRF) with the Universities of Cambridge and Herriot Watt and commissioned by the Climate Change Committee. You can read the full report here.
  2. Independent research carried out by Keith Buchan for Campaign for Better Transport. Read the full report here. For more information contact Keith Buchan on 020 8994 0900/07788 724827 or k.buchan@mtru.com.
  3. The Department for Transport is undertaking a freight carbon review as part of the carbon budget process under the terms of the Climate Change Act 2008. Road freight is responsible for around 20 per cent of the UK surface access CO2 emissions despite only accounting for around 5 per cent of vehicle miles driven. In 2014, transport was the only sector where CO2 emissions increased.
  4. Previous increases in truck sizes have not led to more efficient loading or reduced empty running; as the CSRF report notes 29 per cent of all lorries are driving around completely empty (30 per cent of the largest HGVs) a figure which has been largely consistent for the past 15 years with overall HGVs around 50 per cent loaded.
  5. Several European countries already use a weight and distance based charging system. The German distance-based charging system has reduced empty running from 29 to 19 per cent and increased load efficiency and rail freight.
  6. 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 Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929).