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Rail Freight Benefits

You probably already know that there are benefits to be gained from using rail rather than road for freight distribution. In summary, the main benefits are:

Reliability – The moving annual average for punctuality on the UK’s railways was 91.6% for the 13 periods to 7 January 2012.

Cost-effectiveness – longer distance transits should be cheaper by rail than by road.

The Environment – on average, rail freight emits just 33% of the CO2 of an equivalent journey by road.

There are additional benefits in security of freight in transit, a lower level of accidents, reductions in road congestion, and lower levels of other emissions.

Reliability– The moving annual average for punctuality on the UK’s railways was 91.6% for the 13 periods to 7 January 2012. This is a composite statistic across passenger and all types of freight and infrastructure trains.

On time arrival for rail freight compares well with other distribution modes and is improving:

“Rail freight performance is improving year on year. Between 2005/06 and 2008/09 the percentage of freight trains arriving on time has risen by six points. More than eight out of ten freight trains complete their journey on time – a figure which rises to 98% for premium delivery supermarket goods trains such as the Stobart services for Tesco.” (Value of Rail Freight – Network Rail – July 2010).

Railways do of course have the advantage of running to a timetable. To be fair, however, disruptions can and do occur and this can cause delays.

FreightArranger assists with disruption response through its train and container locator software. The locator can be customised by you to provide the alerts you need to see so that you can be automatically informed if a delay of greater than a preset amount is likely. This information is the first step in developing a response which mitigates the consequences of the delay.

Rail freight can be more cost-effective than distribution by road. This is possible through the underlying economics: trains burn less fuel per tonne mile then road vehicles and a train, which can have as many as 30 wagons, only needs one driver. There are, however, some additional costs which are incurred in a rail journey: at each end of the rail transit, a road delivery will be needed, and there will be a lift cost to transfer the container between the train and the road vehicle.

Consequently, longer journeys tend to be cheaper by rail, and shorter journeys are cheaper by road. Where the point of cost neutrality comes is governed by many factors which are route and commodity specific and therefore cannot be addressed here, but in general the point of cost neutrality can be expected to lie in the range of 130 to 150 miles.

The environmental benefits of rail freight distribution compared to road have received much publicity and increased use of rail is one of the means which large companies subject to carbon footprint reporting are seeking to reduce their carbon emissions.

Rail’s carbon advantage arises from a number of factors, the main one being that there is almost no friction involved in a metal wheel running on a metal rail; conversely a tyre made largely of rubber encounters a higher level of friction when in contact with an asphalt/tarmac road. Railway gradients have been smoothed out to a greater extent than roads, and there are fewer stops. On average, rail freight emits just 33% of the CO2 of an equivalent journey by road.

Although not yet mandated by legislation, larger UK Companies are adopting carbon reporting and setting themselves carbon reduction strategies, in part to improve their image with consumers, in part to achieve cost savings and in part to obtain tax advantage. The logical consequence is that the pressure to reduce carbon footprint will cascade down the supply chain and into smaller companies as they seek to improve their profile with their larger customers.

FreightArranger uses guidance and conversion factors published by DEFRA in its Greenhouse Gas emissions guidance.

Use of rail freight also helps to road congestion congestion on the Strategic Road Network. Road congestion has been estimated to cost UK businesses £24 billion per year (FTA).

Rail is acknowledged as being a safer means of transport than road, with a lower fatality rate per billion passenger miles indicating a lower level of accidents.

And finally, rail freight is more secure as it is more difficult to steal goods from a train than from an HGV; therefore FreightArranger contributes to total through transit security.