The "Twa Brigs" and Freight
Continued from Issue 50
Trucks contribute approximately 13% of the fuel tax revenues to the exchequer, mostly from lighter trucks and vans . A per mile basis shows what a bargain this is for hauliers. Take a family diesel car covering 15,000 miles per year. Now assuming fuel duty of £0.55 per litre, the current rate (at 15 miles to a litre is 4p per mile) to which must be added the licence fee of say £200 or 1p per mile giving a total of 5p per mile. VAT is a general tax on consumption and has no bearing on these calculations.(Furthermore for commercial operators input VAT is recovered against output VAT on sales so it has a zero effect for commercial operators.) The heaviest trucks consume 1 litre every three miles or 18p duty contribution per mile. The annual licence of the heaviest, 6 axle artics is £1350 together with trailer tax of £350. At an annual mileage of 80,000 this is equivalent to 2p per mile giving a total cost of 20p per mile. That differential, of 5p for a family car to 20p for the heaviest truck does not reflect fairly the cost of construction, the damage done to the road system by the heaviest vehicles.
Public policy has determined that cheap transport is a "good thing" For most product groupings that is other than the heaviest items, freight cost is a small proportion of total cost ,well under 10% We are now entering a new season, where transport miles, carbon footprint and import substitution will be to the forefront of thinking. The era of "cheap" transport is over.
It is strange that with all the rush to privatise, no one has suggested roads. The road system was amongst the first national asset to be taken into the state system when in 1888 the "Turnpike Trusts" were abolished and responsibility assumed by county councils.
A letter in the Economist of September 1988 observes, " You say that Britain's giant nationalised industries could soon be reduced to a tiny rump. You omit the most grotesque nationalised industry - a vast out of control system, administered by civil servants in the interests of a pressure group, handing out road space at a price completely unrelated to its cost , devouring land, the environment and human life. Governments will be really serious about privatisation when they propose to apply it to road transport" The UK now has little wagonload traffic after the "Speedlink" service was wound up prior to privatisation. Wagonload was said to lose £20 million a year on sales of £40 million. How could this type of business ever be profitable? This has important consequences for rural lines such as to the far north where traffic levels will be low but freight traffic important to justify the continuing existence of the line. Wagonload is still important on the continent representing 50% of rail freight or 100 billion tonne-km annually. Efforts are underway to reduce average wagonload transit times in Europe from a present 10 to 3 days.
Lack of planning allowed the new vast Tesco Scottish distribution centre to be built near Livingston without a rail connection .The provision of this would have considerably improved the viability of rail services by eliminating the road movement to and from Grangemouth probably saving more than £100 per round trip.
With the financial margins earned by the rail freight companies being around 5% there is little scope for them investing in equipment to handle smaller traffic flows.
The concept of the freight DMU seemed to show promised but this seems to have disappeared from current thinking.
Similarly there is a need for a modern lower power locomotive in the 700 to 1000 horsepower range rather than the 4000 hp units which are used for heavy freight and consume 5 litres of fuel per mile.
In USA, older locos are being rebuilt with modern smaller road truck engines and use much less fuel per mile (See RJ Corman Railpower)
There is also much recent concern about "goldplating " of rail infrastructure projects and the overall costs of track maintenance in the UK which are said to be 40% more than continental Europe and even more so in comparison with the USA. Although figures are hard to come by, in 2002 rail freight track access charges were halved to £0.02 per gross ton mile or 88p per mile, HGV equivalent.(2p x 44 tons) This compares with a calculated HGV rate of £0.20 per lorry mile previously noted. Truck track costs are too low and railfreight access charges are too high.
How can freight be reintroduced on a modest way to allow traffic to build up? Originally trains were mixed conveying both passenger and freight. Such a service was experimented with in the 1980s before the introduction of diesel multiple units. A container flat wagon was added to the Aberdeen to Inverness service then transferred to a train for Thurso. The climate change act of 2008 has set legally binding target for an 80% reduction of greenhouse gases over 1990 levels by 2050. Government has set 5 year carbon budget to ensure progress towards this target. The first period has little to say on the transport sector which contributes 30% of these gases.
The public would welcome the transfer of freight to rail.. Even modest changes, like the Tesco train are very noticeable by the private motorist. The reduction of heavy long distance road freight would reduce the requirement and pressure for road improvements.
There are some signs of change. Projections for the period 2007-2015 anticipate goods lifted by rail increasing by 30% . (DfT, A sustainable transport system 2008)
The April 2010 issue of "Trucking" has an article on the success of the "Stobart" train from Valencia Spain to Dagenham London, carrying fruit and vegetables to the UK. The train covers the 1000 mile journey 12 hours faster than road despite a change of gauge at the Spanish border. Now pallet specialist CHEP has signed up to provide return loads of empty pallets 12000 per trainload which previously would require 30 trucks. This will save 5500 tons of CO2 in addition to the 8700 tons on the inward journey. Brake Brothers are also using the train because of the need to reduce road miles and increase speed of delivery to ensure optimum freshness. Brakes intend to extend the service to other European regions and products if the move is successful.
Full loads by rail are more than three times more efficient in fuel used and on the trunk haul labour productivity is better by a factor of more than 10 over road haulage. Although now very efficient the net earnings of rail freight companies are modest and they are not in a position to invest the substantial sums to recreate a rail freight network.
Road track costs of HGVs are too low and those of freight trains too high. There is a need for transparency of costs of road and rail. Heavy road haulage is subsidised by other road users. Until this is clearly identified and rectified there will be no sustainable transfer of goods moved from road to rail.
The decline of the rail freight industry commenced after WW1 and continued until 1990, a period of 70 years. Recreating a sustainable freight alternative to road journeys of more than 100 miles will likewise take more than a generation.
The Reshaping of British Railways 1963 HMSO
Report of the Inquiry into Lorries People and the Environment 1980 HMSO
Delivering a sustainable transport system strategy Department for Transport 2009
Juggernaut, John Wardroper 1981
Railtrack A guide to freight connections 1997
Planning Freight Railways Nigel Harris 2003