Tackling rising track access charges and overcoming capacity constraints are two of the focus areas discussed in the UK government’s new Rail Freight Strategy.
Published today (September 13) the document, which draws from a report commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT) from engineering consultancy Arup, highlights four focus points for achieving growth in the sector: innovation and skills, network capacity, track access charging and telling the story of rail freight.
The strategy lists various steps being taken by the government, Network Rail and other bodies to address some of these central issues.
In particular the strategy acknowledges concerns around track access charges, which are expected to increase overall by the equivalent of £15 million a year by the end of CP5 (2019).
The DfT said it would work with the ORR to develop a track access charging regime which recognises the industry’s positive role in cutting carbon emissions and reducing congestion on Britain’s roads.
Another issue is capacity. The Strategic Freight Network Fund has set aside £235 million during CP5 for enhancements that benefit rail freight growth. What the level of funding will be beyond 2019 is currently being determined by the DfT.
Rail Minister Paul Maynard wrote in his foreword: “All too often, rail freight may feel it has been forgotten. This is understandable when the emphasis inside and outside the industry is very often focussed on passenger needs. But we must not lose sight of the very important role that freight plays in our railways.
“That is why I am delighted to welcome the Rail Freight Strategy which seeks to make sure freight plays a full role in our railways. This strategy has developed out of the strong relationship that has built up between the rail freight industry and the Department for Transport in the last few years.
He added: “The rail freight industry has faced a number of uncertainties over recent months, including the decline in traditional core markets such as coal and reduced Channel Tunnel traffic due to migrant activity at Calais.
“I hope that this Rail Freight Strategy will enable the industry to look forward with confidence and ensure that rail freight continues to play a central role in our future vision for the railway.”
Maggie Simpson, Rail Freight Group (RFG) executive director, added: “The rail freight sector is changing and freight operators and their customers are working to deliver growth in new and existing markets and to be fit for the future.
“This strategy will help to provide the stable and supportive environment they need to do so, and we welcome its publication.”