Posted 14th May 2014 | 12 Comments

Report hails £2.7m daily savings from railfreight

THE benefits of railfreight are being highlighted in an industry report published today, which claims that businesses are saving £2.7 million a day by using trains to transport their goods.

That's the key finding of analysis sponsored by the Rail Delivery Group and carried out by KPMG. The RDG includes representatives of all the franchise owning companies as well as freight operators and Network Rail.

The report goes on to say that a further £500 million a year of economic, environmental and social benefits come from railfreight because it reduces the number of lorries, avoiding more than 7.6 million road journeys last year.

The railfreight sector has been achieving growth in several areas, although some industry leaders are calling for further network improvements, including more electrification.

The report says railfreight "is now vital to Britain’s economic competitiveness. It transports over £30 billion worth of goods a year from supermarket groceries and premium whiskies to over half the fuel delivered to power stations to generate electricity.

"Railfreight also helps ensure British manufacturing can compete globally by sending products on the first leg of their global journey, connecting factories with container ports."

Peter Maybury, chairman of Freightliner and the RDG freight group, said: “Railfreight has been transformed over the past two decades and is set to keep growing. By continuing to drive efficiency and improve performance, operators could help more than double the size of the sector over the next three decades and increase the economic benefits of rail freight to over £4 billion a year.”

Meanwhile GB Railfreight managing director John Smith has been calling for network improvements to boost railfreight still further, including the doubling of the branch to Felixstowe docks and electrification from there via Ely and Peterborough to Nuneaton.

He told Railnews: "We are lacking some strategic infill and upgrading to help freight in the plans for CP5. I would want Felixstowe to Nuneaton to be electrified, for example, while the Felixstowe branch itself must be one of the busiest single track railways in Europe.

“The Humber Ports are a major source of railfreight – Immingham is our King’s Cross. But only a little way inland there’s Barnetby, still with Victorian signalling. Some of the signals in the yard there must be the oldest still in use. Taking the King’s Cross comparison, it’s like reaching Finsbury Park and finding semaphores everywhere.

“Neither do I really understand some of the details of the electric spine. We are reviving and electrifying a stretch of railway between Oxford and Bletchley that’s been out of use for 20 years, before we electrify across Suffolk, double the Felixstowe branch or deal with the Immingham approaches.”

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Andrea Gilmour, Ware

    As a professional planner I can only say everyone should shut up and let the planners do their jobs. If it wasn't for moaners and NIMBY's we would have a superbly planned country. The public have far too much to say and get in the way.

  • Andrew Blurton, stafford

    Would the rail freight operators be achieving more & saving more & also transporting more if more investment in the mainline rail network was also electrified & re-opened & also re-built where rail freight activity during the day does not operate running or exist operating at all & through any major town or city across the entire UK running & where connectivity is also very poor with any rail freight operator or any service & can it also be improved & also be expanded there & operating there where necessary & where rail freight operation's are viable & with more flexibility & better diversionary operation's can also be required to achieved their own results & with the local operator's & the mainline operator's as well to expand & design a flexible & more efficient operation with their customer's & developing the quickest & shortest journey operation to transportation from the biggest freight yards & shipping ports & docks to any continental freight yard across the UK as well & also more competitively with the freight companies!

  • MikeB, Liverpool

    @Roshan, Leeds. Whilst I have no inside knowledge of the future plans of Brush Traction, I am of the view that the likes of Vossloh, Bombardier and Siemens in Europe, together with EMD and GE in North America, now have total control of the global locomotive market. Brush have not built a new loco since the last of the Eurotunnel Class 9s in 2002 and, as far as is known, have no plans to produce any new designs in the future. Therefore, unless they can win contracts to convert locos to bi-mode (i.e. electro-diesels) or to re-engineer current designs such as Class 60s or 66s, thinks could look somewhat bleak at Loughborough.

  • les burge, leicester

    I agree wholeheartedly with John Smith's comments on doubling the Suffolk branch and electrifying through to Nuneaton. It ought to be done as a matter of urgency to remove long distance lorries off the A14 etc saving on greenhouse gas emissions.As part of this Syston to Wigston needs 4 tracking and a freight flyover at South Wigston soas not to cause a bootle neck on the Midland mainline.

  • david c smith, milton keynes

    As a Bletchley residemt, I am a bit baffied as to why the Electric Freight Spine is projected to go "the long way round" from Oxford to Leicester via Bletchley and Bedford. A more direct option would be via Leamington, Coventry and a restored connection just south of Nuneaton station to the Leicester line .Oxford to Nuneaton is earmarked for electrification as part of this scheme anyway .

    Doubling of Leamington - Coventry would be needed for this too.

    (The official definition of the electric spine includes the route you suggest from Oxford to Nuneaton via Leamington Spa and Coventry, which is being electrified along with the Oxford-Bedford-MML corridor. See -- Editor.)

  • Roshan, Leeds

    By the way, do Brush Traction still make locomotives? Or are they at least thinking of designing and engineering more? Surely they could have a go at converting diesel-electric locomotives to bi-modes, e.g. Class 66s? So many diesel freight trains run under overhead lines but also in to non-electrified parts that this would surely be a huge step forward in electrifying freight services.

  • Roshan, Leeds

    Tony Pearce is right - the success of freight is not given enough credit. I think it is a lot to do with how the freight companies compete so fiercely. Competition is vital. I sincerely hope they can try to replicate rail freight's success in the passenger train services by putting an end to the monopolies that franchising creates and instead use a system similar to the rail freight system. I'm sure it can be done, e.g. by having more open access operators.

    Now rail freight needs to expand even more. Possibly by reopening the Great Central Main Line?

  • Chris Jones-Bridger, Buckley Flintshire

    I think John Smith expresses reservations regarding the electric spine more widely shared by freight operators. Those traffic flows most likely to benefit from electric haulage are high volume regularly timetabled iintermodal flows. To invest and benefit from electric traction the routes to Felixstowe and London Gateway need to be electrified as Mr Smith is advocating.

    Since privatisation all principle freight operators have invested in fleets of class 66 diesels. These have provef to be a versatile go virtually anywhere machine. Even operators such as Freightliner bequeathed an electric fleet have reduced their use as damaged locos have been witjdrawn replacing with diesels because of their flexibility. The ability to use non wired diversionary routes during planned or unplanned perturbations has been invaluable in maintaining the timetabled srtvice for the customer.

    For bulk flows electric haulage is of limited benefit to the operators. The current traction and fleet mix provides operators the flexibility to meet customers every changing requirements.

    One significant change since privatisation is that infrastructure flows are now revenue and profit earning activities for the freight operators. To BR they were a cosr.Aided by RailtrackNetwok Rail new operators have found an entry to the rail freight market encouraging the on track competition we have today.

    Direct comparison between the financial and competitive world faced by BR Railfreight & today's operators is not necessarily fair. Especially in the latter days BR was facef with an onerous rate of return on capital employed where even well established profitable flows were sacrificed because they failed to make amply contribution. If the same requirement was applied to today's intermodal traffic I think it unlikely many would be considered viable.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    Freight is the market never ever mentioned by the Anti HS2 groups but then how much do they know about freight trains .

    Its a success story but ironically suffers the same nimby behaviour when plans for freight terminals are announced people want lorries off roads as long as terminals are not where they live !

    I suppose one way around the above is to get more places connected to the rail network so you don't get as much concentrated traffic in a single place but this is down to proper planning when industrial and distribution locations are agreed and ensuring links to rail network are included at planning stage.

    As for more electric freight trains the problem arises at the terminals which are not fully wired and so perhaps a return to shunters might help until battery powered trains become viable ?

    I was on GOBLIN service yesterday which is planned for electrification and often see freight trains at Barking joining or leaving the line and while full electrification is planned a short section of the route is already wired in Tottenham area and thus raises question as to whether wiring should start at Barking end and thus link into already wired routes making a move to electric freight trains from Tilbury and new container port at Shellhaven possible earlier.

  • Lutz, London

    John Smith's comments are not unfounded, but I wonder if his criticism of the electric spine, at least in part, is because it may be of more benefit to his industrial competitors?

    The doubling of the Felixstowe branch is probably doable within reasonable funding constraints, but the electrification of the link to Nuneaton will be a substantial investment and will probably require Government backing. How much is GB Railfreight prepared to contribute towards the proposals a ongoing charges thereafter?

  • Roshan, Leeds

    What I think needs to be done is a movement towards electric traction in freight, which would certainly improve reliability, energy efficiency, costs and probably speed too. A lot of diesel locomotives operate under overhead lines. Why can't freight companies convert their diesel-electric locomotives in to bi-mode by giving it to a depot to fit it with a pantograph and all the other necessary features? Surely that would be the quickest and cheapest option to increase the amount of electric rail freight traction.

    Also, I hope MML operator gets some new Hitachi trains instead of cascaded IC225s so that the Class 91 locos can go to freight companies. This could potentially allow 160km/h freight services using these locos.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    When anyone comments on the Railways and the benefits (or otherwise) of Privatisation they never mention or even think about Rail Freight - and what a success its been. I remember the bad old days of British Rail when they cancelled all feight trains on Saturdays and Sundays to 'Save Money'. And the manufacturers who wanted their goods at the port to meet a specific ship just transferred everything to road including the Monday to Friday goods as well.