Strong freight network vital for UK economy

The Rail Freight Group (RFG) was delighted to welcome Andy McDonald MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, to its annual Christmas Lunch yesterday (13 December). Addressing more than 800 RFG members and their guests at the Royal Lancaster London Hotel, he said rail freight was critical to the overall UK logistics network but that it was still not getting the full government support it deserved. 
“Everyone knows the importance of rail freight and the contribution it makes to the economy,” he said. “It’s been a good year for the industry, with growth in consumer and construction traffic, but it always frustrates me that freight still doesn’t get the credit it deserves amongst politicians. Rail freight plays a vital role in lowering carbon emissions as it produces 76% less CO2 than the equivalent road journey. A gallon of diesel will carry a ton of freight 246 miles by rail as opposed to 88 miles by road. We remain committed to a growing and sustainable rail freight industry and it must be prioritised as our network continues to grow and investment decisions made. We must focus on passengers, of course, but freight must be central to all railway planning.”
In particular he highlighted the new East West Railway line between Oxford and Cambridge and said it was madness that there were no freight paths allocated on the corridor to assist with the construction of the new housing developments in the area. He also heavily criticised the government’s attitude toward track and train partnerships and said it raised big questions for rail freight.
“Devolution presents many challenges for rail freight and it’s crucial that city regions ensure that there is proper access for freight in their planning and I wish to applaud all customers of rail freight who recognise the sector’s economic and environmental benefits. It is but one part of our vast logistics network, connecting ports and distribution centres across the UK. The network is our economic circulation system for life outside the European Union.”
He concluded by saying: “The role of rail freight is more important than ever. We’re committed to working with the industry to make sure it gets the right investment. I want to applaud the work of the Rail Freight Group over the past year, Tony and Maggie have worked tirelessly to make the case for more freight to be carried by rail and I thank them for their support.”
RFG Chairman Tony Berkeley said it was fantastic to see so many people supporting rail freight. It had been a very good year in many parts of the sector, he said, with some key successes in construction and container traffic. By chance, at the same time the Christmas Lunch began, rail freight operator Freightliner was handling the movement of the millionth TEU by rail out of the Port of Felixstowe, on its way to Birmingham.  
Berkeley said: “It’s a fantastic achievement but they could have done even more if the rail links had been improved. Transport Minister Chris Grayling MP talked a lot about rail link improvements in his most recent speech. We now need to see them happen and happen quickly because then rail freight will grow even more, as the construction sector has done this year.
“We need government to support us and we don’t think much of the National Infrastructure Commission’s Chairman Lord Adonis Tweeting that he’d rather the network was for passenger trains and that freight could always go up the motorway in road trains at night,” he added.
Thank you to everyone who attended this year’s RFG Christmas Lunch. As always it was a fantastic sell-out event that provided members and their guests an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends, make new business connnections, and celebrate the rail freight sector. On the day the champagne raffle raised more than £6,000 for Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, the RFG’s chosen Christmas charity.
The announcement on launch of the East West Railway Company can be found here.