Rail freight line in UK

Rail Freight Group sets out priorities for incoming Government

Image: Network Rail

The UK Rail Freight Group (RFG) has urged political leaders to make rail freight a key part of their future transport commitments, as the country prepares to go to the polls on June 8. Setting out its five key manifesto priorities, the RFG says any future incoming government must provide a framework which enables freight to prosper.

Rail currently moves a quarter of all containerised imports from the UK’s ports to inland customers, delivering 40 per cent of the construction aggregates used in London and the south east’s building boom, and underpinning key industrial sectors such as steel. This is becoming an increasingly important area in helping to alleviate the fall in rail freight demand for traditional sectors like coal.

As the leading umbrella body for rail freight in the UK, the RFG works to increase modal shift by campaigning for a policy environment which supports rail freight, promotes the sector, and supports members in their business activities.

Key priorities

Its manifesto says Government action is key to providing a framework which enables rail freight to prosper, and allows the private sector operators and customers to invest for the future. The RFG’s five priorities are:

1. Put rail freight trade at the heart of post-Brexit trade links: With trade at the core of the economy, and as Brexit forges new global trading arrangements, the RFG believes Britain needs efficient freight and logistics links to deliver exports and imports to consumers and manufacturers.

With its strong links to ports and the Channel Tunnel, rail freight is ideally placed to deliver. The Government, it adds, should support these goals through streamlined customs procedures and investment in infrastructure.

Unlock capacity

2. Invest in rail freight infrastructure and technology – Government investment in rail infrastructure is key to growth, and in the case of freight this is often about enabling smaller schemes which can unlock capacity or enable more efficient trains to operate.

As railways turn to technology, the RFG says it is also vital that freight benefits. The government should prioritise and provide freight investment in the next five-year railway funding cycle.

3. Provide a stable environment for freight to enable private sector investment – While private operators and customers invest in equipment and services, they must have confidence in the future structure of the nation’s railways if they are to continue developing. Although having benefits, devolution also presents risks for nationwide cross-route operators, and thus a strong ‘system operator’ function is essential. Stability is also needed in network access charges, and avoiding increases which jeopardise rail’s position compared to other modes.

‘Tactical freight grants’

4. Restore and promote rail freight grants to support new services – ‘Tactical’ freight grants have been an essential part of the Government’s support for new services, particularly in the case of new terminal and interchanges.

But the RFG says despite the scheme being excellent value for money, the budget has been cut back, risking traffic leaving the rail for roads, and undermining growth and investment. The Government must act to restore the budget to previous levels, and work with industry to ensure it is targeted where it needs to go.

Providing safeguards

5. Enable the development of modern fit-for-purpose terminals – Freight terminals must be able to meet the needs of the industry’s customer demands. The RFG says the UK needs a planning system which can deliver new locations and protect existing ones from harmful development.

The Government must commit to providing safeguards, and ensure land used for freight operations is retained by national infrastructure manager Network Rail for the long-term.

Maggie Simpson, Executive DirRFG Executive Director recently spoke to RailFreight.com about her future vision for the the group – read her interview here.

Author: Simon Weedy

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

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