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Rail Freight

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 7 November 2013

The Government support the transfer of freight from road to rail. We are investing £400 million in rail freight infrastructure for the investment period out to 2014. The rail freight grant is helping to remove more than 800,000 lorry journeys. Ultimately, rail freight needs more capacity on our network, which is why we are taking forward High Speed 2.

In Carlisle we have DRS—Direct Rail Services—a very successful rail freight company that is looking to expand. Can the Minister assure me that everything will be done to ensure that companies such as DRS are given every opportunity to expand not just their volume but their capacity?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on highlighting the work of DRS. It is indeed a very successful rail freight company. The Government are committed to the growth of the rail freight industry, and we recognise the contribution that companies such as DRS make. We are continuing to look for every opportunity to support the expansion of the freight industry and encourage transfer to rail where it is practical, economic and environmentally sustainable.

Will the Minister engage with his colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills? A number of key companies in my constituency are losing competitiveness because they cannot move their goods fast enough across the UK into mainland Europe, in particular because there are huge blockages at the top end of the M6. A little bit of joined-up thinking could radically improve Britain’s competitiveness. Will he do something about it?

This Government are known for their joined-up thinking, so if the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me about the particular problem in his constituency, I will look at it and speak to my colleagues in BIS.

Does the Minister agree that the wise decision to invest £45 million in redoubling the Kemble to Swindon railway line is a huge improvement, not just for passengers but for freight? Does this not reinforce the point that this Government invest not only in HS2, which is right, but in the existing network?

My hon. Friend is right. We have consistently made the point that we are not only investing in High Speed 2 but that we are investing £37 billion in improvements across the network. He is right to pick out that example, which illustrates exactly what the Government have been saying—that capacity is being added across the network.

The Minister will be aware that 80% of freight in Britain goes by road, both cross-channel and within Britain, and that serious modal shift from road to rail cannot take place until the railways are capable of taking lorry trailers on trains. Will he look seriously at schemes for investing in rail freight capacity capable of taking lorries on trains?

The hon. Gentleman is aware, of course, that there has been a huge increase of some 60% in rail freight over the past 10 years. The capacity that is being added will add the prospect and the potential for extra rail freight and extra transference from road to rail. If there are serious schemes, we will look at them, but they would have to justify the economic business case and provide better value than the capacity that we are adding, which will allow that transfer from road to rail.

Today the new London Gateway port receives its first ship. As my hon. Friend knows, its ambition is to transport many of the materials that come into the new port by rail freight. Will he ensure that Network Rail looks carefully at the provision of level crossings across Thurrock so that our road network is not disrupted by the increased volume of freight trains using the network?

My hon. Friend is a well-known and doughty campaigner for her constituency, which is why I have had the pleasure of visiting it several times in the past couple of years. I will of course look seriously at that and speak to Network Rail. It is essential that that new port is a success.