Decarbonisation and freight’s heroic Covid-19 effort tops agenda at RFG Conference 2020

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris MP has reaffirmed the Government’s commitment toward rail freight and outlined the crucial role it will play in helping decarbonise the UK economy.

In a recorded message at the 28th Annual Rail Freight Group Conference, held online on 14 October, he laid out the Government’s vision for the future of freight transport, making it clear that rail would play a key role in cutting carbon emissions across the country and helping the UK meet its 2050 environmental targets.

He said: “I want to offer my heartfelt thanks for your incredible, almost heroic, response to Covid-19. Your efforts during this time have kept critical goods like medicines and food on the move up and down and across the country. Your hard work and dedication during this uniquely challenging time has been outstanding.”

He went on to say that rail freight had the potential to add “significant economic and environmental benefits” and that “rail freight has a key role to play in our recovery from the crisis.” Rail freight has bounced back quickly from the initial impact of Coronavirus and according to Network Rail is running at 92%-93% of normal levels.

The Minister has become a great advocate for rail and as MP for Daventry, the home of DIRFT, he spoke in detail about his commitment to modal shift and the huge opportunities for the growth of the rail freight sector. He said rail would be at the forefront of change and had a crucial role to play in delivering the Government’s vision for the future of Britain. He also welcomed the Crossmodal Future of UK Freight Strategy, due for publication next Spring.

The Minister fell short of putting specifics around increasing freight access to the network or increased train paths but did say Government was committed to the modal shift of freight to rail and it would play a key role in the ambitious Transport Decarbonisation Plan (to be published later this year), which will steer the future freight strategy.

“We remain committed to the modal shift of freight, as we aim to improve the environmental performance of the entire freight industry,” he said. “We continue to support the need for an expanded network for Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges too, so the industry will be able to reach its full potential going forwards.”

He thanked RFG for its hard work in feeding into the debate and to its members for their support.

The conference was an excellent opportunity to not only recognise the challenges the sector has faced but also the huge success of rail freight this summer. Modal shift to rail is seen as a big way of decarbonising transport and an opportunity for rail freight. This formed a key theme throughout the conference. Also tackled were the issues around the Covid-19 pandemic, port connectivity, HS2, rail reform, Brexit, and the economy.

Maggie Simpson OBE, Director-General of the Rail Freight Group said it was right that the sector be applauded for its incredible work during the pandemic: “Today’s conference has highlighted the real opportunity for rail freight to make a difference to the UK economy and environment as we move forward into post-Covid recovery, and with new global trading arrangements. Despite the challenges we face, the discussion today shows the sector’s commitment to grow and develop, and to embrace change in support of our customers’ needs.”

A huge thank you to Waterfront for hosting the event and to all of our speakers for giving up their time to debate the key issues impacting companies working right across the sector.

Read the full meeting report here.