The continued growth in the volume of international trade poses considerable economic and sustainability challenges, particularly as transport routes become more congested and concern grows about the role of transport movements in accelerating climate change. Rail freight plays a major role in the inland transport of containers passing through the main British container ports, and potentially could play a more significant role in the future. However, there is little detailed understanding of the nature of this particular rail market, especially in terms its current operating efficiency.
This paper examines container train service provision to/from the four main ports, based on analysis of a representative survey of more than 500 container trains between February and August 2007. The extent to which the existing capacity is utilised is presented, and scenarios by which the number of containers carried could be increased without requiring additional train service provision are modelled, to identify the theoretical potential for greater rail volumes. Finally, the paper identifies the challenges involved in achieving higher load factors, emphasising the importance both of wider supply chain considerations and government policy decision-making.