BRITISH roads could be hit by up to 190,000 extra lorry journeys a year after “penny-pinching” ministers cut £4m of subsidy for rail freight, according to industry research.
Hauliers and logistics companies say they are considering the purchase of hundreds more lorries because the grant cut makes it uneconomic to transport food, clothes, electronics and other goods by rail.
Campaigners say the extra road deliveries, equivalent to 520 lorries on the roads each day, will add to pollution and congestion.
The Sunday Times revealed last year that the average speed of traffic in the evening peak on Britain’s busiest stretch of motorway, the M25 near Heathrow, is 13.7mph.
The grant cut comes before a study last week named the UK as one of the most congested countries in the world. The annual traffic index from TomTom, the technology firm, gives a picture of worsening congestion, with commuters wasting more than five days a year sitting in traffic.
The mode shift revenue support (MSRS) grant, which helps companies move goods by rail instead of road, has been cut by the Department for Transport (DfT) by just over a fifth, from £19.9m last year to £15.7m this April. It will be cut again to £15.2m in 2018-19.
Freight firms bid for money and the cut means some will see all subsidy withdrawn this year.
Glasgow-based Russell Logistics transports the equivalent of 40,000 lorry-loads by train in the UK each year, but will now consider moving all its orders by road
They say that although the overall size of the grant is relatively small, it is worth between £1,200 and £1,300 for each return trip by freight train and is significant in deciding whether rail is cost effective.
Ken Russell, joint owner of Glasgow-based Russell Logistics, said his firm transported the equivalent of 40,000 lorry-loads by train in the UK each year, but would consider moving all its orders by road after losing its MSRS grant. This would require the company to buy about 100 new lorries.
“[This] tips the balance where we will be better off doing it by road,” he added.
Russell claimed other haulage firms were also considering a switch. “I estimate this budget cut puts 190,000 lorry movements at risk of returning to the roads per annum,” he said.
Philippa Edmunds, of the Campaign for Better Transport, said cutting the grant was “bad for the economy and society”.
The DfT said last weekend that the MSRS grant this year would still mean “up to 800,000 fewer lorry journeys”. It added: “We recognise the environmental and economic benefits from moving goods by rail and are committed to supporting the long-term growth of the industry.”
Mark Hookham, Transport Correspondent
This article first appeared in The Sunday Times