Rail freight steps up to deliver for United Kingdom 

Zoe McLernon, multimodal policy manager at the Freight Transport Association

Two of the most influential bodies in British industry have issued a joint statement, recognising the contribution of the rail freight industry during the current coronavirus crisis. They have called on government to recognise its future importance to the national economy and safeguard its status in strategic planning.

Senior figures in the Freight Transport Association and the Rail Freight Group have praised the role of rail freight in supporting the public, the logistics industry, and the wider UK economy, as it steps up to deliver the essential items the nation needs to keep consumer shelves stocked and industry supplied with materials. The joint statement says that by launching dedicated services to transport critical supplies, running faster trains and increasing cargo capacity, rail continues to play a crucial role in keeping goods moving throughout the crisis. Both bodies have called for that continuing effort to be recognised in the long term.

Zoe McLernon, multimodal policy manager at the FTA (pictured), said she was impressed by the determination of the rail freight sector to keep goods moving across the UK during the crisis. “The industry is truly delivering for the nation”, she said, speaking from the Associations headquarters in Tunbridge Wells, in Kent.

Freight Transport Association

The FTA is one of the UK’s leading business organisations, representing logistics businesses which are vital to keeping the UK trading, and the more than seven million people directly employed in the making, selling and moving of goods. Members of the Association consign around 90 percent of all goods carried by rail, and in 2018 it published the influential study document, “Helping rail freight deliver for its customers”.

Good with food. Rail freight has been a critical link in the supply chain. Destined for an aisle near you, these Co-Operative Group containers are handled at DIRFT Railport near Daventry, Northamptonshire (image FTA)

The FTA is well placed to take a wide view of the economic contribution represented by rail freight operators, and McLernon called on government to take due consideration in future economic and recovery planning. “From launching express services dedicated to delivering essential medical supplies, food and hygiene products to running extended length trains to stock supermarkets, businesses within the rail transport sector have shown their flexibility, resilience and efficiency in the face of the pandemic”, she said. “With rail freight set to play a crucial role in the nation’s economic recovery moving forwards, it is vital government acknowledges its importance; operators across the sector must have increased access to the national rail network permanently. Only through this increased access can rail freight continue delivering for the UK”.

Rail Freight Group

Echoing those observations, Maggie Simpson, director general of representative Rail Freight Group, added her organisation’s weight behind that call. “Rail freight operators and their customers have been working tirelessly to supply essential goods to support our communities and businesses”, she said. “The sector has truly shown why it is so important to the economy, and why it deserves its place as a key part of the UK railways.  As we move out of lockdown, it is essential that freight trains continue to get the access they need on the network, and that Government provides the certainty for businesses to invest in rail in these most challenging of times”.

Protector of travellers and merchants. Well, in Greek mythology anyway. Hermes House is the HQ of the Freight Transport Association, who certainly represent the interests of many mere mortals. (image FTA)

With hints today in the UK parliament, during Prime Minister’s Questions, that Britain may begin relaxing lockdown measures from as early as next week, there is an imperative for urgent planning. Boris Johnson may be well advised to engage his government with the expertise of McLernon and Simpson in making sure that rail freight plays a full part in that unlocking process.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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