Findings of Solent to the Midlands multimodal freight study published

The first phase of the Solent to the Midlands Multimodal Freight Strategy has been published today by Network Rail and Highways England. The strategy comes as a result of a year's work between both organisations, and represents another step forward in Highways England and Network Rail's relationship in multimodal strategic planning, and other areas to serve funders and customers.  It also forms part of Network Rail's Long-Term Planning Process and Highways England's Route Strategy and Pioneer Projects work, both of which are designed to identify investment priorities for the future.

Network Rail's managing director for the System Operator, Paul McMahon, said: "Both our organisations have a shared goal of keeping Britain moving, as well as contributing to achieving the government target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050." "This study contributes to these goals by demonstrating how both networks could be used more efficiently in terms of their overall capacity and their carbon footprint." The study uses data in exciting and innovative ways, identifying potential freight flows that currently use road but could be better served by rail.

It also outlines the significant benefits that modal shift to rail offers freight end-users, but also to the wider road and rail networks. It has been divided into several 'phases' to allow all questions to be appropriately and comprehensively addressed. The first phase focuses on the understanding of the current market landscape, as well as determining what demand for freight on this route could look like in the future.

Key findings include:

  • Roads are critical to complete the door-to-door journeys for shorter distances, such as regional and local movements or the last mile from a rail freight interchange. Rail is the most cost effective over longer distances and for higher roads.
  • Rail and road both have similar reliability in terms of journey times, key for freight consumers where much freight is time dependent. 
  • Modal shift to rail provides an opportunity to free up road capacity on the Solent to Midlands corridor, especially for those journeys that are greater than 50 miles and greater than 100 miles for bulk and consumer goods respectively.

Elliot Shaw, Highways England executive director of strategy and planning, explained: "Highways England and Network Rail operate two of the country's most important transport infrastructure networks for the freight and logistics industries." "The Solent to Midlands Joint Strategic Study is a good example of us working together to identify the optimum solutions that could benefit road and rail users, the economy and the environment."

The route links the major port of Southampton with the multiple distribution centres and economic hubs of the Midlands, North and Scotland, and is one of the most crucial freight corridors in the UK. The Solent Ports, particularly Southampton, are favourable locations to the global freight and logistics market  because of how close they are to the main shipping lanes. The Midlands houses a high volume of large distribution centres and warehouses - the so-called 'Golden Triangle' of freight distribution.

The A34, managed by Highways England, links the Solent Ports and the Midlands and is closely mirrored by the equivalent rail route, owned and operated by Network Rail.

Because of the parallel nature of the road and rail routes, it is a perfect fit for cross-modal analysis.

Next steps include:

  • Continued collaboration between Network Rail and Highways England to develop the strategy for this important corridor and to look at other areas that would benefit from joint working to provide an improved service for customers.
  • Removal of the barriers to rail freight growth needed to enable the increased freight flows out of the Solent.
  • Unlocking new markets for rail freight.
  • Decarbonisation of freight movements and the road freight system.

You can access the full report here