The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has called for the British government to urgently introduce a national multi-modal freight strategy to help to ease traffic congestion, improve air quality and boost the economy.
Far too many goods enter the UK via ports in the South East, leading to congestion around London, said the authors of a new report.
According to the report, up to 30% of all haulage vehicles on UK roads are empty and about 150m miles are driven unnecessarily by lorry drivers.
In the case of shipping, the authors believe that more could be done to improve co-ordination and efficiency.
The report cites the fact that currently 65% of the UK population lives within a 150-mile radius of Liverpool Port whereas 91% of our deep-sea goods enter or leave via either Southampton or Felixstowe.
This is estimated to equate to 150m wasted road miles, 200,000 additional truck journeys ― increasing road congestion ― and creates about 0.2m tonnes of unnecessary CO2 emissions from moving goods to where they are needed.
Philippa Oldham, head of transport at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and lead author of the report, said: “We currently have empty lorries on our roads, delivering shipping cargo to ports where demand for goods is on the other side of the country, and to wait for air cargo to undergo approval tests in other counties before being allowed to be processed through customs.
“Estimates suggest that congestion costs the UK economy £13bn per year, with poor air quality being responsible for about 29,000 premature deaths each year.”
She called for the National Infrastructure Commission to create a national multi-modal freight strategy to incentivise optimum use of infrastructure and better co-ordinate the transportation of goods around the UK.
The report also highlighted the benefits of short-sea shipping, noting: “Transferring freight by sea from port to port is another potentially attractive but under-utilised option, particularly as much of the infrastructure already exists.”
It added that the rail movement of intermodal container traffic has a strong growth forecast based on “better and electrified links to ports accommodating the largest containers”.
“Regional developments will help to avoid the inappropriate use of South East ports for goods destined for the Midlands and North, as long as they are supported by the appropriate fiscal and charging regimes,” it further stated.
The authors also cited the ability to double-stack containers on trains of about 300 containers each helping to improve rail productivity in North America.
The Betuweroute freight line in Northern Europe, which links the railways of North Germany with the Port of Rotterdam, earned praise for improving capacity and reliability for freight and passenger trains in the Netherlands.