In the Rail Alliance’s rather tentative first look at this subject we were delighted by the breadth of experience assembled in the room and the opportunities highlighted in its interaction with our speakers.
Though hugely competitive the Freight sector returns £300M in profits to the UK economy and is a significant private sector employer. Amid one or two recent suggestions of stagnation we were left inspired by the considerable scope for opportunity should rail harness the information and data available and in providing evidence of its benefits be allowed a more progressive strategy.
Lord Berkeley’s opening speech illustrated the size of the opportunity from the Rail Freight Group’s perspective, notwithstanding the pressures placed on capacity by passenger growth since privatisation. Rail needs to compete with road freight and can indeed be a cornerstone for domestic intermodal goods services should regulations be more accommodating and the network enable better national connectivity.
The traditional view of a heavy goods facility has ongoing merit, but rethinking rolling stock design and investigating multi-modal terminals would make the best of the digital integration at the heart of the Rail Technical Strategy and its recent iteration in the Capability Delivery Plan. Freight movement has a role to play and getting goods off the roads in any form has to be a worthwhile environmental objective. Customer expectation might need to be more accommodating in terms of delivery times, but perhaps the price list could reflect this?
So, what do we need to build and what would it cost; where is the technical innovation and the creativity from the supply chain in the broadest sense? It’s a big subject, and often we find the complexity of debate can stifle the objectives, but we need to start somewhere. Perhaps a more regional approach; bold investment in more flexible, collaborative systems of passenger / freight integration on routes? Flexible Freight is a key component of the more joined up vision for UK infrastructure and we will be developing this subject in Rail Alliance’s programme for 2018.
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