Rail Freight Too Low a Priority in UK Government Plans to Decarbonise

UK – In March the government called for a response to its ‘Decarbonising Transport -Setting the Challenge‘, which sets out Britain’s plans to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, something it has enshrined in law. The opening pages of the document focus on the future of the transport and logistics industry – with one glaring omission. Although rail gets a look in later in the document neither passenger nor rail freight is mentioned either in the ministerial foreword from Grant Schapps, or in the Six Strategic Priorities which set the approach to decarbonising.

Remember here we are talking about a government that has singularly failed to electrify key sections of the rail infrastructure meaning diesel locomotives still haul much of the country’s track borne traffic. Now the Rail Freight Group (RFG) is urging the Government to include a target for increasing rail freight use in the forthcoming Transport Decarbonisation Plan. The RFG says failure to do so risks rail freight’s proven role in decarbonisation not being maximised and the UK falling behind the EU, which stated in December when illustrating its Green Deal that as ‘a matter of priority, a substantial part of the 75% of inland freight carried today by road should shift onto rail and inland waterways’.

Whilst welcoming the positive comments the government has made regarding the status of rail, the RFG wants to see action, not more words and has set out six key points it would like to see taken up:

  • ensure rail freight is represented on the new Net Zero Transport Council
  • match the EU’s commitment to encourage modal shift and include a target for increasing rail freight within the ‘movement of goods’ strategic priority
  • create a formal process to take forward the government’s commitment to ‘consider how to make rail an even more attractive option for companies to move goods around the country’
  • include rail freight in the freight portal being developed with the Energy Saving Trust and LowCVP
  • consider how waste-derived fuels can play a role in decarbonising rail freight prior to electrification
  • consider what actions other Government departments can take to aid transport decarbonisation. For example, ensuring planning policy supports decarbonised transport by favouring the development of large distribution hubs in sites with rail access

The RFG is urging government to take these points up, pushing rail higher up the decarbonising agenda and Joe O’Donnell, Head of Policy, Rail Freight Group, concluded: “The transport decarbonisation plan should maximise rail freight’s role in reducing carbon emissions, given these are around 76% less than HGVs.

Yet rail freight doesn’t feature in the plan’s current strategic priorities. Missing this opportunity to reduce carbon emissions today could undermine our ability to reach net-zero by 2050. Using more rail freight makes significant carbon savings without waiting for the possible development of new technologies.

“As a minimum, the Government should match the EU’s commitment to shift freight to more sustainable modes and go further by setting a target to drive change.

This will place the UK in a truly world-leading position at the UN’s annual climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow.”

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