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Rail Freight

Volume 639: debated on Thursday 19 April 2018

In September 2016, the Government published a rail freight strategy setting out a vision for how the freight industry can grow. During control period 5, the Department is investing £235 million to improve the capacity of the network. Further funding for investment in the network will be available in control period 6.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but is the reality not that only a small proportion of freight in Britain is carried by rail, and that it has been declining? By contrast, a third of all freight in Germany is transported by rail, and in the US the figure is 50%. To achieve a substantial modal shift in freight from road to rail, is it not essential to introduce a much bigger programme—a major programme—of investment in rail freight capacity starting very soon?

We share the hon. Gentleman’s ambition to support modal shift. The Government are always interested in hearing about ambitious schemes that would encourage that. As he will know, we recently launched a call for ideas for market-led proposals that will enhance the railway, and I encourage him to take part in that.

Residents in north Oxford are gravely concerned about the increase in rail freight and particularly the possibility of the line being used to construct HS2. Children are already shaken out of their beds in the middle of the night because of freight trains. Will the Minister consent to meet me to discuss the concerns and, critically, the solutions, which include monitoring and speed reductions for the trains?

I obviously sympathise with the hon. Lady’s local residents. The Government are committed to getting freight off our roads and on to rail to realise the environmental and economic benefits of rail freight. However, the Department does not specify the level of freight services on the network, as that is a commercial matter for the freight operating companies and is a function of market demand. The Oxford area is essentially at capacity during the day, although the Oxford corridor capacity improvement scheme will deliver two additional freight train paths an hour in each direction. It is anticipated that rail will support the movement of construction materials for HS2, but it is not possible at this stage to determine where the freight services will operate. The maximum permissible speed that freight trains can travel at over sections of the network is a matter for Network Rail as the infrastructure manager.

It is very good indeed to see the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) back in his place.