The Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP), announced this week by the Department for Transport (DfT) may, on paper, be a more sustainable and profitable method of planning and developing the rail network, but without information about its targets for the freight sector, businesses will not be fully aware of the potential benefit of using rail as part of their business plans, said the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
FTA, the UK’s leading association representing the whole logistics sector, has welcomed the publication of the RNEP as a great opportunity to view the challenges facing rail freight as part of an industry-wide programme of investment. But, as Chris MacRae, Head of Rail Freight at FTA says, without meaningful freight targets, the positive results of the government’s rolling programme of investment outlined in the plan will be difficult to quantify: “The new English and Welsh rail investment strategy’s pipeline approach, which views the challenges facing freight as part of a wider look at the sector as a whole, is welcome news for those moving goods and services across the country’s network,” he says. “This should enable freight to be viewed as part of the full picture of rail usage across both nations, giving due priority to the operators whose livelihoods depend on accessibility and efficiency throughout the network.
“However, with funding for rail falling in real terms from UK government, it is imperative that operators are encouraged to pitch for and win contracts from businesses across England and Wales. However, without any targets for freight transport within the plan, there is a danger that rail operators will prioritise passenger traffic over the needs of freight, which could have a knock-on impact for future potential growth.”
Rail has a crucial role to play in the logistics industry, with the sector moving 65% of intercontinental trade between the UK’s southern ports to the north of England, and accounting for the movement of more than 43 million tonnes of goods to and from the UK’s ports. In addition, its ability to move heavy and bulk commodities can assist in removing numbers of HGVs from the country’s roads, while providing an alternative “just in time” delivery option.
As MacRae says, FTA is keen to keep working with DfT to ensure that the interests of the nation’s freight operators remain top of mind to achieve the growth targets set by government for the sector:
“Rail freight is already operating in challenging, competitive circumstances and the trading environment will undoubtedly become more pressurised as Brexit approaches. The new holistic approach to funding announced in the RNEP programme should provide reassuring economies of scale to maximise the impact of funding, providing that operators can have a clear picture of the targets they are working towards. Without this commitment to freight, the opportunities which rail presents could be lost for English and Welsh business at a time when the economy is already under severe pressure.”
Efficient logistics is vital to keep Britain trading, directly having an impact on more than seven million people employed in the making, selling and moving of goods. With Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc. A champion and challenger, FTA speaks to Government with one voice on behalf of the whole sector, with members from the road, rail, sea and air industries, as well as the buyers of freight services such as retailers and manufacturers.