Wider rail tracks, greater load capacity and more freight terminals – allowing goods to be exchanged between road and track – are essential if rail freight is to achieve its true potential in Wales. That is what leading trade body, the Freight Transport Association (FTA), told the National Assembly for Wales’ Enterprise and Learning Committee today in a meeting to discuss the future of railway infrastructure.
Rail freight already plays an important role in moving bulk goods, such as aggregates and coal. However, its growing reputation as a reliable way to move manufactured goods while massively reducing carbon emissions and transport costs has made it the transport mode of choice for a growing number of businesses and retailers.
Christopher Snelling, Head of Supply Chain Policy at the FTA, said:
"Rail freight not only represents a great opportunity for businesses in Wales to improve their supply-chain efficiency, it also provides a sure-fire way to reduce our overall carbon footprint. FTA’s role in shaping the future of rail freight during this consultation and information gathering process will hopefully lead to a rail freight network Wales can be truly proud of."
Of the various challenges facing rail freight, one of the most controversial is local opposition to intermodal rail freight terminals. Most goods are travelling to shops or distribution centres which do not have rail access. It is vital, therefore, that land is made available for suitably-located rail freight terminals. This will in turn have the environmental benefit of taking more lorries off congested, local roads.
"There are some practical barriers to rail freight’s development in Wales, but they are by no means insurmountable. For example, a seamless and optimised service will need a universal gauge clearance to support the growing popularity of container movements, particularly those coming out of Port Talbot.
"But we are not talking about investing in an expensive high-speed line here, freight has no need for one. We are talking about relatively small, practical changes that, if applied correctly, will look like small beer compared to the environmental and business benefits rail freight delivers."