UK trade union: freight statistics worrying

08.06.18 - Daventry, UK. Road and rail freight interaction at Daventry Railport. Photo: Professional Images/@ProfImages

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) says the latest statistics, released last week by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), show a worrying downward trend. The Union has called for the UK government to fully support the sector.

The quarterly analysis of the rail freight industry, reported here last week, has brought a concerned response from the RMT, the trades union representing more than 83,000 members across the transport industry.

Volume fallen significantly

The Union was responding to the quarterly report, published last Thursday, by the independent ORR, the non-ministerial government department responsible for regulation of Britain’s railways. The figures cover the period January to March 2020, the last quarter of the financial year. The annual figures, also indicated in the results, are only marginally affected by the coronavirus crisis, which gives the Union cause for concern.

In their latest analysis, the Office of Rail and Road graphically illustrate the downward trend highlighted by the RMT

According to the ORR, in their headline summary of annual trends, the total volume of rail freight moved fell to 16.6 billion net tonne kilometres in the financial year 2019-20, a 5 per cent decrease from the total in 2018-19. They add that the total has fallen significantly since it peaked in 2013-14 and 2019-20 is the lowest total recorded for freight moved in 23 years.

Call for government measures

Despite some optimism expressed in the commentary, and the caveat that the rapid removal of coal traffic is still working through the industry, the RMT is unimpressed. They say these latest rail freight usage statistics show a worrying downward trend.

The collapse of coal traffic remains a significant statistical factor (ORR graphic)

The Union highlights the figures that show the lowest total of rail freight moved for 23 years, and lowest total of freight lifted for 35 years. Union leaders have called on the UK government to put measures in place “to ensure the rail freight sector had a bright future.”

Worrying to say the least

“These latest rail freight statistics are worrying to say the least”, said Mick Cash, the RMT general secretary. He added that the part played by the industry in the current pandemic crisis has been crucial to the nation. “It’s vital that the rail freight industry is not allowed to wither on the vine as it has proven to play a vital role in our response to the crisis, moving vital medical supplies and food to keep our country moving”, said Cash.

Worried by the statistical trend. Mick Cash, general secretary of the RAil Maritime and Transport workers union, reprinting more than 83,000 workers accross the whole industry (RMT).

Immediate and long term actions

While the overall proportion of freight moved by rail in the UK remains small, the national and regional devolved governments have all made commitments to a greener economy, citing rail transport as a significant part of that strategy. However, the RMT sees a need for both immediate and long term action.

“The Government must ensure we get rail freight back on the rails,” says Cash. He also wants rail to be at the heart of the long-term economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis. “That this vital sector is fully supported as part of an integrated transport strategy that will become even more vital as part of the country’s revival.”

As with other industry stakeholders, the Union is braced for the September analysis, which will cover the March-May period, and reveal the impact of the coronavirus crisis in more detail.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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