‘Freight belongs on rail!’ campaign launched in London

DB Cargo UK celebrated the official commissioning of their new London terminal by making it the venue for the launch of a major new campaign to encourage modal shift from road to rail. The campaign “Freight Belongs on Rail!” is designed to bring home the message to the heart of Government. The launch represents the first wave of the lobby, supported across the rail freight industry.

With a specially commissioned mobile marketing tool – a reliveried class 66 locomotive – the UK’s largest rail freight company has teamed up with some of Britain’s biggest businesses to lobby the UK Government to set a legally-binding target for future modal shift from road to rail. They say they want to encourage other businesses to follow their lead.

Terminal opening chosen as launch site

The Freight Belongs on Rail campaign was launched at the official commissioning of the new DB Cargo UK rail freight terminal in Cricklewood, North London on Wednesday 20 October. The seven million pound investment (7.7 million euro) will support some of the country’s biggest infrastructure projects, including the southern end of HS2, and the ongoing regeneration of the vast Brent Cross site – turning the seminal 1960s shopping centre into a 2020s residential, leisure, retail, and commercial neighbourhood.

We doubt even the stout class 66 could climb Calton Hill in Edinburgh for this unique take on the iconic skyline of Scotland’s capital city (DB Cargo UK)

The bulk loads at the Cricklewood site will eliminate much of the heavy truck movements around the north of London. “Every year the new terminal will handle the import and export of 1.5 million tonnes of aggregates and construction spoil that would otherwise be transported by road”, say the company.

Rail facing up to the challenges

With the average train carrying the equivalent of 76 heavy goods vehicles and generating around 75 per cent less harmful carbon emissions, DB Cargo claims that is a shining example of why the Government should redouble its efforts to encourage greater use of rail freight. “The more goods and materials we can get off the road and onto rail will reduce congestion, significantly cut carbon emissions and improve air quality – some of the UK’s Government’s key objectives in its drive to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050”, said Andrea Rossi, the company CEO.

No thanks, we’ll have less of this…

With the recent publication of the Williams-Schapps Plan for Rail and the well-documented challenges currently being faced by road hauliers, Rossi says there has never been a better time for Government to promote rail freight as the way forward. “Setting down in legislation a legally-binding target for UK modal shift, like has already been done in Scotland, will provide the confidence and certainty needed to unlock sustained investment in rail freight going forward”, added.

Urge Boris Johnson to act

Rossi says modal shift to rail will also drive greater ownership and accountability, as well as encouraging greater collaboration and innovation. He contends that we have already seen action from rail freight operators and their customers following the UK Government’s publication of its target for decarbonisation. “As part of DB Cargo UK’s campaign, the company is asking its existing customers, including some of Britain’s biggest businesses, to lobby Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to act”, he said.

“Some of Britain’s best known construction companies, supermarkets, steel manufacturers and car makers are already enjoying the economic and environmental benefits of using rail freight”, said Rossi at the launch. “We will be working closely with them in the months to come to carry the message to other businesses who would benefit from changing their existing transport strategies. “It will, however, take a collaborative effort by all stakeholders involved – Government, regulators, the rail companies, industry bodies and customers – to deliver the policies and reforms necessary to unlock rail freight’s true potential,” he added.

Rail Delivery Group behind campaign

The rest of the rail industry has thrown its weight behind the campaign. “Moving more freight by rail helps businesses deliver, frees up space on congested roads and prevents unnecessary carbon emissions, supporting a clean, green economic recovery from the pandemic”, said Andy Bagnall, Director General at the Rail Delivery Group, the membership body that brings together both freight and passenger rail operators, infrastructure agency Network Rail and the High Speed 2 project.

A right future is predicted for rail freight by the campaign (DB Cargo UK)

With the COP26 summit in Glasgow less than three weeks away, Bagnall was keen to state the environmental imperative of modal shift to rail, especially in the light of the Freight Belongs on Rail campaign launch. “Now is the time for government to build on these benefits”, he said. “An ambitious rail freight growth target will unleash further private sector investment to improve connectivity and deliver economic and environmentally-friendly benefits,” he added, just as the next 76-truck loads of materials arrived at Cricklewood – because #FreightBelongsOnRail.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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