Fresh calls to solve UK truck driver shortage with increased rail freight

British politician Huw Merriman has made a renewed proposal to solve the long-standing shortage of truck drivers in the UK. He says it is time to get the long distance hauls off the motorways of Great Britain and on to the rail ‘spine of the country’. Merriman has called for the West Coast Main Line to be the main artery of rail freight in the UK – something which may not come as a surprise to the industry..

Britain has been struggling for over a decade with a growing shortage of long distance lorry drivers. The job has been shunned by younger generations, and logistics firms are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit new drivers prepared to adopt the lifestyle. The answer, says Huw Merriman is to greatly increase the use of rail for long distance hauls, and deploy truckers on ‘last mile’ goods distribution, removing the need for overnight working away from home.

National supply chains straining

Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) are used to move goods around the UK. That often requires drivers to be away from home overnight, many of them using ‘sleeper cabs’ for accommodation. It is not a lifestyle that appeals to younger professionals, who are proving reluctant to embrace the profession which has lost much of the glamour that attracted drivers in the 1960s and 1970s. The average age of HGV drivers is now in their fifties, and the profession has a vanishingly low appeal to women.

Trucks on rails is not a sight we’ll see anytime soon in the UK, but more rail freight replacing road, that is a possibility.Image: RAlpin

As a frequent advocate of modal shift as a means to solve the driver shortage problem, the member of parliament Huw Merriman, who represents the ruling Conservative Party, has chaired a committee, tasked with coming up with solutions to the worsening problem. With national supply chains straining to keep up with demand, the issue has critical importance for the economy. That Commons Transport Committee has just published its report, calling for sweeping changes to the road haulage industry and to make modal shift to rail the backbone of the solution. Merriman’s own constituency of Bexhill and Battle, has been on the front line of logistics snarl-ups on the route to the Channel Tunnel.

Government and industry move towards multi-modal

“If the industry won’t deliver change, government should do so and send them the bill via increased taxes to those who produce and sell and make the most profits,” said Merriman, the committee’s chairman, and advocate of rail freight.. The road haulage industry has, quite predictably, greeted the report with dismay, saying that further taxes, such as the proposed ‘Supply Chain Levy’ are not what the industry needs, especially as it is reeling from the double blow of Brexit forcing many European drivers out of the British market, and the pandemic persuading many drivers to find employment closer to home.

Huw Merriman Mp chairs the commons Transport Committee

However, the committee’s proposed tax could be used to help improve rail freight facilities, helping to make Merriman’s modal; shift idea more feasible. The Committee report says the Government should work with industry to move towards a multi-modal model in which long distances are served by rail and water and shorter journeys by road. “This will not only help the country meet its decarbonisation goals but improve the lives of HGV drivers who would spend fewer nights away from home. This must happen alongside steps to decarbonise road freight itself.”

The report by the cross-party committee, entitled “Road freight supply chain” has been published by the UK government.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

2 comments op “Fresh calls to solve UK truck driver shortage with increased rail freight”

bönström bönström|08.06.22|10:43

Currently, for majority, regrettably, the single high quality device available, at distances up to 600 miles from Port, is the on road trucks. (Incentives, for drivers, now is the missing!)
Regrettably, there is no quick fix, for soundly making railways a timely, high quality device!
For sake of reduced costs, at railways and clients, now simply added capacity and ensured On Time arrivals has to be provided for! (A New Old Railway safely allowing for 7000 pounds axial load is a min, etc.)

keshav nager|08.06.22|16:12

Very nice article , which clearly explains the importance of Railways.
Simon walton i am looking for a suitable position to utilise my skill set acquired by working with Indian railways.
My email ID is keshav9909@gmail.com

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