Haven Gateway: Lisa Brazier on the road v rail debate

SOMETIMES, public perceptions can take you by surprise. As we move ahead with the Low Carbon Freight Dividend project, our team is clear about the benefits it can deliver – better use of rail, reduced carbon, support for SMEs.

But for some, there are fears that moving more containers to and from the port by rail might mean a loss of jobs elsewhere, notably in the road haulage sector.

We believe it’s worth looking at it from a different point of view. The �7.5million Low Carbon Freight Dividend, set up with �3m of support from the European Regional Development Fund, aims to encourage SMEs to switch their containers from road to rail.

The incentive is real money – up to �75 per container for the eligible SME – but the rewards will add up for us all. Moving 30,000 containers to rail over the three-year duration of the project will eliminate at least 11.7 million kgs of carbon dioxide from the logistics supply chain and will also deliver direct economic benefits to the region, by reducing road congestion.

Whichever way you look at it, environmental issues are no longer there to be ignored. Those involved in moving freight – large companies or small – simply can’t afford not to consider rail as an option.

New legislation and carbon taxes are inevitable as the government, and the European Union, strive to meet incredibly challenging targets for reducing carbon emissions from transport over the next few years. Add to this the ongoing expansion of the Port of Felixstowe as the UK’s biggest and busiest container port, and rail simply has to be a growing part of the transport mix.

But let’s look at jobs, always an emotive topic. If demand increases for freight by train then more rail services will be needed. The main rail freight companies told us in our recent Haven Gateway Economic Impact Study that they expected to recruit additional staff in the next few years, including drivers and administrative and management staff, in direct response to increasing rail freight movements to and from our ports.

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The container numbers targeted in the Low Carbon Freight Dividend project would add up to an additional train every day – that could create additional labour demands everywhere from driver’s cab to goods yard.

As for the road side of the issue, studies suggest that the demand for truck drivers will continue to grow even if the project moves all of its targeted 30,000 containers on to rail. One transport modelling report suggests a growth of 17% in HGVs in the region between 2006 and 2031.

A new report from Skills for Logistics warns that the UK is facing a driver shortage, particularly because the present workforce is an ageing one; drivers due to retire over the next few years are not being replaced by enough new entrants to the sector. As with most things, it’s a question of balance.

: : Lisa Brazier is the Haven Gateway Partnership’s project manager for the Low Carbon Freight Dividend.

SMEs interested in the Low Carbon Freight Dividend project should email lisa.brazier@haven-gateway.org or visit the www.lcfd.co.uk .