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Rail freight movement at record high in 2014

Rail freight movement in the UK has peaked this year with more than 22.7 billion net tonne kilometres moved in 2013-14, an increase of some 6% over the previous year, according to data from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR).

Having previously peaked in 2006-07 at 21.9 billion net tonne kilometres, the amount of freight moved had fallen to 19.1 billion net tonne kilometres by 2009-10, coinciding with the recession. However, the total freight volume moved has been growing steadily since then to the highest total since the time series began.

Although the movement of coal continues to be significant, the largest growth was recorded in the construction sector, which saw 23% growth – signalling the end of recessionary impacts in this sector.

But oil and petroleum and domestic intermodal freight moved decreased by 3.1% and 0.3% respectively, in the last quarter of the year, compared to 2013-13 Q4. Intermodal traffic was flat, reflecting short-term uncertainty in the shipping market associated with the opening of London Gateway, and the loss of services to Thamesport in North Kent.

Maggie Simpson, Rail Freight Group executive director, said: “These results show yet again that rail freight is thriving across a range of business sectors. The development plans over the next few years need to build on this success and help this trend to continue.”

In addition to the increased freight movement, freight delay, which is a measure of delay experienced by freight operating companies normalised by the distance run by freight trains, was also reduced.

The ORR said freight delays per 100 train-kilometres tends to peak in Q3 and Q4 each year, coinciding with the expected periods of adverse weather, during autumn and winter.

But since the beginning of the time series in 2007-08, normalised freight delay has improved by 29.1% to 16.7 minutes in 2013-14, whilst the freight performance measure has also seen an increase of 6.1%. In particular, freight delay per 100 train kilometres in 2013-14 Q4 decreased by 17.7% when compared to the same quarter last year.

“The decrease in the freight delay minutes and the subsequent increase in performance could be due to the ability to revise the schedule of a freight train at a much shorter notice (compared to passenger trains) and thereby mitigate against the effect of adverse weather – storms bringing strong winds and record levels of rainfall that affected the rail network,” stated the ORR report.

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