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Better...Freight

Instead of rows and rows of HGVs, we’re calling for a transfer of as much freight as possible to rail

Rail freight has excellent economic, social and environmental credentials with far lower adverse impacts on society and the commercial sector than HGVs. That is why Freight on Rail, a partnership of the rail freight industry, the transport trade unions and Campaign for Better Transport, is campaigning for the right policies and upgraded infrastructure and terminals to get more freight transferred to rail. 

Rail freight is worth £1.6 billion per annum to UK PLC and as Claire Perry, the Rail Minister, said in 2015 “rail freight is a real success story”.  Each year the rail freight industry carries goods worth over £30 billion ranging from high end whiskies and luxury cars to supermarket products, steel, cement and coal. A quarter of consumer goods imported into the UK are transported by rail.

Freight on Rail is hosted by Campaign for Better Transport; the campaign is chaired by Stephen Joseph, its Executive Director and managed by Philippa Edmunds its freight specialist who is also Vice President of Transport & Environment in Brussels, of which Campaign for Better Transport is a member. 

Freight on Rail benefits from its strong relationship with Campaign for Better Transport and its close links with other environmental NGOs, transport campaigners, union members and transport and planning bodies as well as industry. The campaign acts as a facilitator and central point for enquiries drawing on the expertise of its members to advise local authority members, officers and LEPs as well as Government officials so do contact Freight on Rail if you have any questions. Freight on Rail also campaigns at an EU level. 

Rail freight as an alternative to HGVs is low-carbon and energy efficient, while also being safer for pedestrians and road users, and reducing road congestion:

  • An average freight train can remove up to 76 HGVs from our roads
  • Rail freight produces 76% less carbon dioxide and up to fifteen times less nitrogen oxide emissions and 90% less small particulate matter than the equivalent road journey.
  • Rail is 20 times safer than HGVs according to the Office on Road and Rail; HGVs are over 6 times more likely to be involved in fatal collisions than cars on minor roads
  • Larger HGVs are 160,000 times more damaging to road surfaces than the average car

Visit the Freight on Rail website for more information about why we need more rail freight.

Longer lorries

The Department for Transport is running trials 15.60 metre (62 ft) lorries on UK streets. Longer lorries are not suitable for urban roads and a particular risk to cyclists and pedestrians as their tail swing, which is in the driver’s blind spot, more than doubles from 0.8 metres for the standard HGVs to over 2 metres. Please do report any problems you experience with longer lorries to Philippa at Philippa.Edmunds@bettertransport.org.uk.

Mega trucks


At a European wide level, we still need to make sure that the UK Government remains firm against 82 ft mega trucks as proponents are planning to bring in a cross border framework for mega trucks early in 2016. For more details, read our blog post on the latest European mega trucks alert.

Water freight

Barges are another option for transporting freight with relatively low environmental costs. Water freight reduces traffic and air pollution and has a smaller carbon footprint than road and even rail freight (using diesel traction). It can also be good for businesses, saving money on labour and fuel and taking goods right to the centre of many cities, such as London, Leeds and Nottingham. We looked at water freight in our 2008 report, A low carbon transport policy for the UK. More information about the benefits of water freight can be found on the Commercial Boat Operators Association website and the Mode Shift Centre website.