Commons Gate

Freight Transport (HC 249-i)

Transport Committee 23 Jan 2008

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Evidence given by: Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE); John Chaplin, Member of ICE Maritime Panel The Institution of Highways and Transportation; Mike Slinn, President; Logistics Research Centre, Heriot-Watt University ; Professor Alan McKinnon, Director, English Regional Development Agencies; John Edwards, Chief Executive of Advantage West Midlands Freight Transport Association: James Hookham, Managing Director of Policy and Communications; Chris Welsh, General Manager, Campaigns ; Association of International Couriers and Express Services; Sharon Davies, Director of Corporate Affairs, DHLRoad Haulage Association; Roger King, Chief Executive; Jack Semple, Director of Policy National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT)Bob Crow, General Secretary; Nautilus UK; Andrew Linnington, Head of Campaigns & Communications; Unite - The Union; Dave Williams, Chair, National Committee, Road Transport - Commercial

Q37 Mr. David Clelland: Given further investment in expansion of the railways for the sole purpose of carrying more freight, what proportion of the freight currently carried on our roads could practically be transferred to the railways?

Professor McKinnon: Can I attempt to answer that question?

Q38 Chairman: One of you, yes.

Professor McKinnon: It is very hard to give you a number

Q39 Chairman: You are all so modest. We are not used to modesty!

Professor McKinnon: The size of the rail freight market in the UK will always be constrained by the size of the country, the average length of haul, the inherent inflexibility of rail, the deep scepticism that still exists on the part of many logistics managers about using rail. I would have thought, with a propitious set of circumstances, you could perhaps push up rail freight share from about 8 or 9% at the moment to maybe 12 or 13%, but it will always be a minority carrier specialising in particular parts of the market. Another point is how we actually measure the rail freight share. Traditionally, it has been measured by tonne kilometres or tonnes - weight-based measures. What we are seeing, however, is a contraction of rail's primary market in bulk movements of coal and steel. The railway is replacing that with lighter, manufactured products. If we continue to judge rail's share of the market purely in tonnes, then we will be deceiving ourselves. I think that we should find some alternative measure for assessing rail share which takes account of the cubic volume of the product, or maybe the value of the goods that rail transports.

Q40 Mr. David Clelland: We cannot expect that to bring huge relief to the congestion on our roads. Are there any other ways of looking at moving freight around the roads, perhaps by restricting the times of the day or night that freight is moved around the country?

Mr Slinn: Yes, I think that this is a strong possibility, looking at the way forward. There are a number of constraints on that, primarily curfews or regulations against night-time operation or deliveries other than at specific times of day. These have really developed over the years because of poorer operating performance of vehicles in the past. They have improved enormously. I think that, given if the industry does adopt best practice in limiting noise and light pollution, in particular for deliveries, there is a case for looking again at some of the planning permission that currently prohibits the movement of goods at night-time or at off-peak times.


Q89 Mr. David Clelland: On that very point, what we tend to hear from witnesses is what the government should be doing and what the government should not be doing but what can the industry do to help relieve congestion?

Mr Semple: Many members of the RHA from different sectors want to work more at night. The biggest problem they face is that their customers are reluctant to receive at night.

Q90 Chairman: In other words, the government's attitude would make no difference whatsoever.

Mr Semple: The government could use a little bit of the sustainability fund for example to help pump prime companies to receive at night. There would be huge impacts potentially at Felixstowe and Southampton for example which are near capacity. If we can move boxes off the ports and deliver to customers, that would help to reduce some of the pressure.


Q124 Mr. David Clelland: Mr Linington, it would seem that the ports are responsible for generating more traffic on our roads than they are for taking off. To what practical extent do you think traffic could be moved from the roads to waterborne transport? What proportion of freight currently on our roads could be transferred to waterborne transport?

Mr Linington: There has been a variety of research conducted into this. At a bare minimum, one research project suggested 3.5%. That is with no intervention or progressive support measures. Beyond that you are looking at potentially much larger figures.

Q125 Mr. David Clelland: What would it take to achieve much larger figures?

Mr Linington: We have been saying for instance that if you enter the road pricing debate you are looking at a mechanism that can encourage the transfer of freight off lorries onto ships because it is economically viable to do so. Some of the research suggests that particularly on short journeys at the moment it is just not economically viable to make that switch. We would argue that is because all the externalities are not factored into the equation. There are these big issues about port infrastructure. I heard one of the earlier speakers being asked about the rail connections to ports. We believe those are sadly lacking at the moment. There is an awful lot that could be done in those areas. I could go through a very long shopping list if you like.

Q126 Chairman: I hope you gave it to us already.

Mr Linington: A fair bit.

Q127 Mr. David Clelland: We heard from the witness from the Freight Transport Association that even if we maximise the capacity of the railway to take as much freight as it can possibly take that would probably only increase the amount of freight being transported on the railways from 8% to some 12%. Would you agree?

Mr Crow: If there is no further infrastructure taking place to the railway network.

Q128 Mr. David Clelland: You were suggesting that that is about the maximum we could expect even with investment in new lines.

Mr Crow: I would slightly disagree. I think there is an opportunity for more than that if the infrastructure is put in there for new railway links. For example, it is not just a question of the ports. One of the biggest container depots is in Birmingham, nowhere near the sea. That is what happens. Walmart have just opened up a massive, new depot up in the north east, nowhere near the sea.

Q129 Mr. David Clelland: You are never far from the sea in the north east.

Mr Crow: It is way back from a port. It is the question of ports and roads. We are not saying that all lorries should be banned from motorways but we should be looking at freight villages.

Q130 Mr. David Clelland: That is all laudable and I am sure everyone would encourage more freight to be using other modes of transport. The point we are trying to get at is that it would seem from what we have heard, as much as we might want to move freight from road to rail or waterborne transport, we are not going to have a great deal of impact.

Mr Crow: There are for instance the inland waterways. There are more canals in Birmingham and the Midlands than there are in Venice. The canals do seem very romantic with people going up and down on them but they were built to move freight. It is not the quickest way to move freight but for those people who rely on services overnight we should use the inland waterways.

Mr Linington: I profoundly disagree with that analysis of it. Yes, if it is left as it is, the potential for this share to increase is small but that is the whole point. There is a whole load of measures that you can take which would increase that potential dramatically. Our argument is that shipping offers huge potential scope. You have hundreds of ports around the country and immense flexibility to run services around the clock. Shipping is a 24 hour operation. You can direct ships to different ports. It is hugely flexible. You can put different ships on different routes. If you find that this particular route is increasing, you can charter additional ships which is what shipping companies do. There is a lot of potential there but our point is that it is not being harnessed under the existing regime.

Q131 Mr. David Clelland: What we need to know is what you believe is practical and economical. All things are possible. We can ask for the moon but what is practical and economical? Is that some of the evidence which you mention?

Mr Linington: It certainly is. I go back to the motorways of the sea scheme for instance. We have to look at what is happening in other countries. Certainly within Europe there is a concerted drive with identified targets for how much freight they want to move off land and onto the sea. These are not mythical things; they have clear targets. There is also European money there. I have some figures here which show, to use a cliché, that we missed the boat in the first handouts of money under the Marco Polo scheme. With the very first motorways of the sea schemes they called for expressions of interest. The UK was not part of that so the money ended up going to about six or seven other European Member States and not coming here.

Mr. David Clelland: If there is any further evidence the Committee has not already had, we would be very interested to see it.


Q155 Mr. David Clelland: Bob Crow mentioned the possible change in energy policy and the importing of more coal and indeed even more coal being extracted here. If that is the case, that coal as has been the tradition would almost certainly be moved around mostly by rail. If more coal is being moved around by rail, that is going to reduce the capacity for the railways to take other freight, is it not?

Mr Crow: We see coal as freight.

Q156 Mr. David Clelland: In terms of relieving the freight from our roads, that is going to restrict the ability to be able to do that.

Mr Crow: If you do not move it by rail, it will have to be moved by road. If we have nuclear fuel there is going to be nuclear waste which is moved by rail. As a union we are opposed to nuclear power stations but nevertheless if you have nuclear power stations you will have nuclear waste. The safest way to move nuclear waste is by rail and sea and that is what we operate at the moment.

Q157 Mr. David Clelland: I am trying to assess the capacity of the railways to relieve congestion by taking freight away from the roads. It looks as though there could be new restrictions coming in on that if they are going to have to take more coal, for instance. That is going to restrict taking freight off the roads.

Mr Linington: If you go back in history, at one stage we had huge coal carrying merchant ship fleets. There was big business in moving coal around the country by sea. The sea vision argument remains very valid in this case as well.

Mr Crow: If you put bigger HGVs on the roads you would get fewer vehicles on the roads. That is one of the arguments that has been put up. That is clearly not the case. Every time they have increased the weight for HGVs to go on to the roads it has not decreased traffic at all.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

The full transcript may be read at

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