The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) has set a 75% growth target for the country’s rail freight market by 2050 as it looks to encourage the modal shift from road to rail. 

Announced by Transport Secretary Mark Harper, the target is being set to “provide the sector with certainty” and deliver on commitments made in the DfT’s Plan for Rail and Transport Decarbonisation Plan. 

Harper described rail as the “most efficient and environmentally friendly way of transporting many goods” and said: “This ambitious plan demonstrates this government’s confidence in the rail freight sector and I hope it encourages businesses to capitalise on the extra opportunities so the industry continues to thrive and deliver for our country.” 

The target, measured in net freight tonne kilometres, has been set after a review of the call for evidence put out by the Great British Railways Transition Team (GBRTT), the group preparing for the introduction of the Great British Railways public rail body, in 2022. 

It is hoped that the measure will encourage more private investment in the industry, which has recently suffered from issues such as the recent job cuts at DB Cargo UK blamed on rising costs and loss of business. 

Rufus Boyd, the interim lead director of the GBRTT, said the target supports what the team was told by 130 industry customers and stakeholders, he said: “Setting a clear ambition for rail freight growth will help bring the sector together, focus minds, break down silos and be a catalyst for private investment. 

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“Rail freight is already a big success story. Moving goods by rail is a greener option and helps cut road congestion, and what we have here is an opportunity to grow rail freight’s modal share. I am convinced that through collaborative working the industry can rise to this challenge.” 

The news has been welcomed by industry bodies, with the Rail Freight Group saying that the target would “help create confidence” for customers to invest in moving more goods by rail, although Director General Maggie Simpson said the ambitions would need to be matched by continued investment from the government into capacity upgrades on the network. 

Similarly, Eurotunnel parent company Getlink recently said that it was asking the government to invest £50m ($63m) into adapting the Folkestone to Wembley railway line to a W12 gauge to allow more freight trains to run through to London from the Channel Tunnel.