A blog by Helen McAllister, Programme Director for Freight Reform

24 November 2022

It’s been a few months since I’ve been able to update on the progress we’ve made on the Plan for Rail’s freight ambitions, but hot off the press, I’m really pleased to say that we’ve had a great response to our Rail Freight Growth Target call for evidence.

For those of you who are new to my blogs or, indeed, new to rail freight – here’s a quick recap. Growing rail freight is hugely important to the wider reform of the railway described in the Plan for Rail. This is not just because it reduces carbon emissions by over 70% compared to using lorries but also because it is more efficient, gives improved air quality and delivers economic benefits to the country (especially outside London and the South East). The call for evidence was us engaging with the logistics sector to find out what level of demand there could be for rail freight in the coming years.

It was really pleasing to receive nearly 90 responses from a wide range of people and organisations, including those who don’t yet use rail.

We are now in the process of analysing the information that was provided to us.

Although we are still analysing this data, we can draw the following high-level conclusions:

  • Many existing rail-using organisations believe that there are other parts of their supply chain that could transfer to rail.
  • The majority of respondents are interested in further engagement with the industry to look for potential solutions to establish a rail service.
  • A number of opportunities to grow rail freight were identified, including more refrigerated goods for supermarkets, movement between large distribution centres and new facilities in urban parts of the country.
  • A target would be welcomed in order to help the industry focus its efforts and encourage healthy behavioural change, but clear lines of accountability are needed as well as the correct levers and incentives.

We will continue to analyse the responses over the coming weeks and hope to publish a summary report of our call for evidence findings in due course.

Elsewhere, I’m pleased to report that we held our first Freight Board last month. We welcomed CEO-level representatives from across the breadth of the rail freight industry to our offices, to discuss the opportunities and challenges that rail reform brings to the freight and logistics sector. It was a really good example of how GBRTT is striving to bring together our industry and move towards our common goals.

All attendees approached the meeting and discussions in the spirit of collaboration and development and while there were the expected challenges on the likely timetable of reform and the economic circumstances facing the rail sector, there was also agreement that this was a unique forum, consisting of bringing together rail freight leaders who are empowered to drive change.

From a personal perspective, it was hugely energising to see the sector coming together in this way and to see leadership in action from such a diverse group.