Freight-to-rail switch ‘can boost air quality’

Switching freight movements from road to rail along some of England’s key transport routes could have major benefits for NOx and particulate pollution, a transport campaign group has claimed.

The Campaign for Better Transport has published research suggesting that removing 2,000 heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) from four major transport routes could result in a 10% reduction in nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 7% reduction in particulates along the roads in question.

Campaign for Better Transport has claimed that removing HGVs in favour of rail transport can bring air quality benefits along some major transport routes

Carried out by the Metropolitan Transport Research Unit (MTRU) consultancy, the research examined the pollution and safety benefits of upgrading existing rail lines along four routes.

These were: the A14 between Felixstowe and the Midlands, the A34 from Southampton to the Midlands, and the M6 and M62 motorways, which together carry around 37,500 HGVs every day, according to CBT.

In compiling the report, MTRU considered what proportional reduction would be obtained locally in each of the corridors by moving freight from HGVs and onto rail.


The potential emissions reduction was based on an assumption that around 86% of HGVs on the roads would be Euro VI and 14% would be Euro V standard by 2025. This was then weighed up against assumptions over the likely number and performance of other vehicles on the roads.

According to these assumptions, around 50% of the NOx from traffic along the routes would be derived from articulated HGVs by 2025. Reducing HGV traffic by 20%, could therefore reduce NOx emissions by 10% along these major routes, the report concludes.

On particulate emissions, which largely arise from tyre and brake-wear, and are unaffected by improvements in exhaust emissions standards, the report suggests: “By 2025 they will almost certainly form the great majority of particulates from road transport.”

It adds: “In equivalent terms to the NOx data, the total share of particulates from articulated HGVs is 35%, and the projected reduction of 20% in such traffic would produce a reduction of 7% of total traffic particulates.”

Commenting on the findings, Philippa Edmunds, CBT’s freight on rail manager, said: “This research shows that by upgrading the existing rail lines which run parallel to these motorway routes would allow large numbers of lorry loads to be transferred to rail, easing congestion, improving air quality and reducing road collisions.

“In particular the effect on reducing particulates is very important because, whilst the latest Euro VI engine technology reduces exhaust particulates, non-exhaust particulates pollution from HGV tyres and brakes remain a serious problem for which there is no current solution, especially for trucks which have large tyres.”


Responding to the report, Christopher Snelling, head of UK policy at the Freight Transport Association — the trade body representing the UK’s haulage sector — said that movement of a significant numbers of HGVs to Euro VI standard will have the largest impact on NOx emissions.

Currently, he said, around 40% of the HGV fleet operating on UK roads is thought to meet the Euro VI standard. And, he claimed that FTA anticipates that more than 90% of HGVs will have moved to Euro VI by 2025, in excess of the report’s 86% assumption.

“There are air quality, carbon and safety benefits for switching from road to rail freight and the corridors they are looking at are prime candidates,” he said, adding: “We agree with the desirability for getting more traffic onto rail.”

On the likely impact of more vehicle operators adopting Euro VI-compliant HGVs, he said: “We would expect more than 90% of HGV movements on roads to be Euro VI by 2025, and each vehicle moving from Euro V to Euro VI has a major reduction in NOx emissions.

“On particulate matter — that is why rail transport remains a positive option. But, for a rounded campaign on air quality, the improvements in vehicle emissions will have the biggest impact.”

Related Links
Campaign for Better Transport


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