Rail freight investment could ‘dramatically cut’ road congestion


Sending more goods by rail could dramatically reduce road congestion on some of the UK’s busiest trunk roads, according to a new report. The Campaign for Better Transport believes that upgrading existing rail lines which run parallel to motorways could take large numbers of lorries off the roads, and is calling for the government to use the findings as part of its long-term planning.  

The report looked at the economic benefits of using the railways to solve road congestion and improve productivity, and in particular four heavily congested routes: the A14 between Felixstowe and the Midlands, the A34 from Southampton to the Midlands, and the M6 and M62 motorways.


Every day both ‘A’ roads carry up to 6,500 of the largest HGVs each day, accounting for between 10 per cent and 17 per cent of all traffic, while the M6 motorway has over 13,500 large HGVs daily and the M62 over 11,000. This represents 10-12 per cent of all traffic on the two motorway sections.

The CBT’s report, which was sponsored by the Department of Transport, found that upgrading existing rail lines which run parallel to the motorway routes and are currently nearing full capacity, would allow large numbers of these lorry loads to be transferred to rail. Transferring 2,000 lorry loads a day to rail would be the equivalent of taking 8,000 cars off the road, it said.

Investment strategies

As more rail freight interchanges become operational there is further scope to transfer traffic to rail. For example, the existing strategic rail freight interchange at Daventry in the Midlands removes 23 million HGV miles a year, most of which would otherwise be on trunk roads. The CBT says the Government should use the findings of the research to feed into its future road and rail investment strategies, and in particular to support continued investment in the 2009 Strategic Rail Freight Network.

Philippa Edmunds, Freight on Rail Manager for CBT, said: “This research confirms what we have long argued, that integrated rail and road planning is the best way to reduce road congestion, collisions and pollution. It shows that on certain strategic transport corridors it is possible to improve road conditions without needing to add more road capacity.

Strategic corridors

“This latest research demonstrates the importance of analysing strategic corridors as well as using national averages in transport planning. It shows the extent to which upgrading the rail freight network on key strategic corridors improves road congestion and therefore improves productivity. Transferring freight from road to rail would bring serious additional benefits not quantified in this report – improved road safety and reduced air pollution and carbon emissions – and these should also be considered.”

The Government’s own 2014 policy statement on national networks claimed that even doubling rail freight would only reduce road freight by seven per cent. National rail infrastructure manager Network Rail recently completed an industry-wide review which has resulted in UK rail freight operators relinquishing more than 4,000 ‘slots’ a week to free up network capacity.

The two-year review revealed that more than half of the reserved freight paths were not being used, and could be better utilised by other services. Around 1,000 paths will still be retained for the possibility of future freight use.

Author: Simon Weedy

Simon is a journalist for RailFreight.com - a dedicated online platform for all the news about the rail freight sector

1 comment op “Rail freight investment could ‘dramatically cut’ road congestion”

Chris Green|08.05.17|17:11

A lot of talk but nothing gets done!There is no incentive financially for companies to switch.We need more Grants from the Government for companies to invest in wagons.Double & electrify the Felixstowe branch and Soham to Ely plus Felixstowe to Nuneaton .Build a new flyover for the Spalding line and electrify Peterborough to Doncaster via Lincoln.More research & development in wagons so loads are bigger and unload easier .The will to get more freight onto the railways does not seem to be there!

Add your comment

characters remaining.

Log in through one of the following social media partners to comment.