Viewpoint: the potential of rail freight in addressing urban air quality and congestion

Philippa Edmunds, manager at Freight on Rail, Campaign for Better Transport and vice-president at Transport & Environment, Brussels, tells Freight in the City why rail should play an integral role in bringing goods into the UK’s urban conurbations.

Changes in urban logistics policy as a result of air pollution violations, road congestion, the growing awareness of cycling safety as well as devolution, favour rail.  philippaedmundsfreightonrail

Why?

Because rail offers the safer, more sustainable long-distance trunk haulage element of the journey between conurbations and ports, which reduces road congestion.

Consumer goods can then be transhipped into low-emission vehicles, as long as consolidation centres and terminals are rail connected.

Already, a quarter of containers imported into England are transported long distance by rail with constant demand for more services from shippers.

Rail currently brings in 40% of London’s aggregates and could bring in more construction materials if there were more terminals in London, for example; each train can carry enough materials to build 30 houses.

Both Crossrail and the Olympic Committee used rail freight to bring in materials and remove industrial spoil.

Two night-time trials bringing freight trains into Euston showed passenger rail terminals could and should be used to bring in trainloads of freight into the heart of cities at night for onward transportation in low-emission vehicles; each of these consumer trains can remove 77 HGVs.

Why do we need to transfer freight to rail?

Because rail produces 90% less particulates and 15 times less NOX than trucks, which are key contributors to air pollution.

Rail freight additionally produces 76% less CO2 emissions than the equivalent HGV journey.

And rail freight is safer; HGVs have been six times more likely than cars to be involved in fatal collisions on urban roads over the past three years (based on the percentage of miles they represent).

Road and rail complement each other, with rail offering a low-emission, safer alternative to HGVs that helps alleviate road congestion – so each mode should play to their strengths as part of integrated freight policy.

Therefore city and local authorities, such as TfL and Transport for Greater Manchester, need to promote and support rail freight in their transport strategies by safeguarding suitable sites for intermodal terminals so that road/rail transfer stations get planning permission.

Edmunds manages the Freight on Rail campaign, a partnership between the rail freight industry, the transport trade unions and Campaign for Better Transport, working to promote the socio-economic benefits of rail freight to national, devolved and local government as well as European institutions.