By John Smith, Managing Director of GB Railfreight
When we think of London’s rail network, images of commuters packed tightly onto trains heading into the capital for the daily grind comes to mind. The well-worn route for millions of people is a reminder of the dependence London has on its rail network.
Transporting the capital’s workers is certainly important but is only half the picture. Rail supports London’s growth through the movement of freight too. While the role of rail in moving goods is barely noticed by most people, it is important to the city’s economy and in delivering on the demands of Londoners for action on air pollution and climate change.
London is undergoing a green transport revolution. Cycling is being prioritised and there is a shift to electric cars and vans. Business is facing pressure to move to more sustainable ways of delivering goods.
The London-based business I run, GB Railfreight, is the UK’s fastest-growing rail-freight business. I believe rail freight can play a much bigger role in helping London become a greener city.
Freight trains can carry the equivalent of up to 70 lorries, while producing a quarter of the carbon emissions. They already move 40 per cent of all construction material into London, and there is the potential for this to grow, reducing lorry miles on the capital’s roads.
Londoners are the most active users of online shopping in the UK, but there is increasing concern about the environmental impact of parcel deliveries. We’re asking ourselves how rail could play a role in making these deliveries more sustainable. We are exploring converting old Intercity 125 high-speed trains into fast freight services that can move internet shopping orders into London overnight, ready for delivery next morning. This would increase the speed of deliveries and lessen their environmental impact.
For a greener London we need to see the expansion of rail freight into our city. For this, we require action from both policymakers and business.
Access to freight terminals in London needs to be preserved. This requires appropriate planning policy from the Mayor and London’s boroughs to protect sites from being developed for other uses and, importantly, allowing them to operate at night, so freight services can make the best use of less congested lines. Central government must also deliver investment to remove bottlenecks on routes into London.
Business can play a role by looking at the sustainability of their deliveries into the capital. Like all major cities, London is constantly feeling the pains of growth. Over the decades rail has played a huge role in allowing the city to expand while remaining an attractive place to live. I believe rail freight has an important role to play in helping London’s ever-changing economy grow while reducing air pollution and carbon emissions.
This article originally appeared in the Evening Standard on Friday 5 July.