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Rail freight in parliamentary spotlight

Rail freight

Minister highlights how rail freight is essential to the construction industry supply chain

EIGHTY delegates attended a parliamentary reception yesterday [Wednesday] to highlight the importance of rail freight to the construction industry.

Hosted by Martin Vickers MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Rail Group, presentations were made by the Rail Minister, Paul Maynard, Lord Berkeley, chair of the Rail Freight Group (RFG), and Chris Swan of Tarmac, on behalf of the industry.

The construction products industry already makes significant use of rail freight with 40% of aggregates used in London delivered by rail. Each train can carry enough material to build 30 houses.

Both the Mineral Products Association (MPA) and the RFG are committed to increasing the use of rail freight, and the reception provided a welcome opportunity discuss how this can be achieved.

As well as playing a key role in the supply of construction materials to allow housing and infrastructure investments to take place, making full use of rail freight will make an important contribution to the issues of air quality and traffic congestion, which are rising up the political agenda.

However, to sustain and increase the benefits of rail freight, a number of significant challenges will need to be overcome.

The event, which was held after the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, proved an opportune moment to debate these issues. Lord Berkeley, chair of the Rail Freight Group, said: ‘Meeting the Government’s ambitious targets for house building and infrastructure relies on efficient and environmentally friendly rail logistics.

‘This event shows how, by working together, we can deliver growth in rail freight for the construction industry over the coming years.’

Jerry McLaughlin, the MPA’s executive director of economics and public affairs, commented: ‘Rail freight is a key part of the construction supply chain and is a real success story with 20 million tonnes of aggregates and cement now being moved by rail.

‘While the mineral products industry, Network Rail and rail freight businesses are ready to build on this success, we have significant concerns about our future ability to maximize the potential of rail freight because of threats to rail depots.’

Mr McLaughlin warned that rail depots close to large construction markets are being threatened by alternative land uses such as housing development.

‘Planning authorities, in particular, need to appreciate that unless rail depots are properly safeguarded in the planning system, it will be increasingly difficult to meet mineral products demands arising from more housing and infrastructure development, notably in London,’ he said.

Chris Swan, senior manager of rail and shipping with Tarmac, added: ‘There is a clear opportunity to support the delivery of future national infrastructure demands through an efficient rail freight network delivering excellent customer service.

‘Unlocking the potential of rail will enable the right construction materials to be delivered at the right time, at the same time as supporting sustainable transport and a lower-carbon built environment.’

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