23.09.2022 /

Our approach to freight: Joanna answers your questions

Back to Latest stories

The UK railways play an important role in our day-to-day lives. They connect people with places and help to transport everyday goods.   

We get asked a lot of questions about freight on East West Rail (EWR). That’s why we’ve asked Joanna Lymboussis from our Sponsorship & Assurance Team to answer a few of the most frequent freight-related queries we've received. 


Joanna, head of sponsorship & assurance


What are your plans for freight on EWR?  

Freight services are already running on sections of the proposed EWR route: Oxford, Bicester, the Marston Vale, Milton Keynes and Bedford all support rail freight services. The government have asked us to make sure that EWR can support these existing services in the area – and that we also consider options for potential future demand. 

We’re in the process of determining what the likely future demand for rail freight will be. This will allow us to make informed decisions about the extent to which EWR will carry freight alongside passenger services, including how much freight is transported, how often and at what times of the day. 

There’s lots to take into account and we’re reviewing a range of considerations including: 

  • The levels of investment required 
  • Local and national benefits 
  • Public and stakeholder feedback  
  • Wider industry plans 


Would freight trains be bad for the environment? 

Rail freight is typically a faster and more environmentally friendly way to carry goods around the country. Just one freight train can take up to 76 lorries off local roads and, every year, rail freight removes 7 million lorry journeys – cutting 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. 

Reducing the number of lorries on local roads will reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, which is particularly important in urban areas and around schools. Carbon emissions from rail are 76% lower than those from road and freeing up local roads from lorries also has other benefits: it’s safer for cyclists, better for public transport and means quicker journeys for other road users.  


Will freight trains be noisy and use diesel? 

Freight trains make around 72 decibels of noise per engine, whereas lorries are noisier at the 77 decibels per vehicle mark. And when you consider one freight train can be the equivalent of 76 lorries, rail freight creates far less noise than road freight. There are lots of factors we need to balance when we work out how to accommodate freight. When we design the railway, we’ll also be exploring how to reduce potential noise from the railway for communities living close to the line, such as with track technology and noise barriers.  

Modern diesel freight services operate with clean and efficient engines and trains. There are legal controls on emission levels and railways like EWR are designed to reduce negative environmental impacts from all train services – including freight. 


What are the benefits of freight on EWR? 

As well as the environmental benefits of transporting everyday goods by rail, rail freight can deliver lots of other benefits to the UK.  

Most of the things you see or use every day have likely been transported by train at some point on their journey. A better-connected rail freight network can help goods move more efficiently and potentially reduce transport costs. This could, in turn, bring retail costs down for customers. 

Overall, rail freight delivers £2.45 billion in economic and social benefits to the UK every year.  


How many freight trains will run on EWR? 

We’re looking at the number of available freight paths (a freight path is a space in the timetable between passenger services) and will have a clearer idea on the number of available freight paths once we have developed more detail on the planned passenger services and our freight strategy. We expect to share more details by the time of our statutory consultation, which will inform our application for a DCO (see more information on the DCO process here). 


Would freight services operate 24/7? 

We’re mindful to reduce the impact of the railway on residents living close to the line. That’s why our current proposal has an 18-hour operational window. We will work closely with the rest of the industry to better understand the operating requirements to help finalise our proposals.