New Research: Road investment key to port connectivity and modal shift

  • Rail growing in importance but roads move SEVEN times as much cargo to and from ports
  • Local connectivity investment is key to making coastal shipping more competitive
  • Coastal shipping by far the most carbon-efficient mode for moving freight

UK roads carried over 300 million tonnes of goods to and from UK ports in 2019. That is one of the findings from a new analysis of port traffic and the modal split of port freight conducted by port analysis specialists Port Centric Logistics and Partners (PCLP) and published today by the British Ports Association (BPA).

The BPA is highlighting the potential for modal shift - taking lorries off the roads and moving more freight by water - to help reduce congestion and carbon emissions. This depends on good ‘last mile’ connections to ports which depend on government to invest in local transport infrastructure.

This Port Traffic Analysis report was commissioned by BPA as part of their ongoing Port Connectivity Review to provide detailed information on modal splits and the wider freight journey. Seeking to gain a better understanding of how the ports ecosystem integrates with the transport network and logistics industry. The research provides several key findings; including a breakdown of freight leaving ports by transport mode.

The BPA also welcomes the publication of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail today, though records that transport investment is a key economic enabler and it is vital that the public sector includes focus on the UK’s road and rail network as the government looks to ‘build back better’.

Key Findings:

  • Road haulage is the primary mode accounting for around 70% of UK ports’ throughput (336m tonnes), Rail freight handles an estimated 10% of port throughput (47m tonnes). Meanwhile Coastal shipping accounts for 20% of total port freight (92m tonnes) and represents a significant growth area for freight transport with key policy changes.
  • More needs to be done by policy makers to look at how a greater proportion of freight is moved by rail and sea to encourage a more sustainable transport network and help with our decarbonisation aims.
  • Equally the report highlights the importance of roads when preparing a strategy to support port connectivity and efficient trade flows. RoRo freight is the second largest segment of the throughput at UK ports, of which the majority is transported by road.
  • Container trade represents 14% of UK volume throughput but only 7% of ship arrivals. This is indicative of vessel sizes, in particular at the four UK deep seaports. Intermodal freight is now the largest sector within the UK’s rail freight network (surpassing the dominance of coal historically).
  • In 2019 the number of UK ports with active rail freight services is significantly fewer than in the previous century, and their role has changed, in particular through the growth of intermodal container transport.

Commenting, Stephen Taylor, Partner and Director at Port Centric Logistics Partners and analyst behind the report, said:

“The analysis published today by PCLP and the BPA provides an overview of key trends regarding ports’ traffic flows to support industry and policymakers in their decision making. Though data in this report is from 2019, ‘the calm before the storm’ before the Coronavirus pandemic, it provides a freight volume analysis by modes of transport during a clean, full calendar year and can thus serve as a potential benchmark for comparison with the impacts of disruptions to supply chains and travel in 2020/2021 arising from Covid-19 and Brexit. Beyond 2021, benchmarking from 2019 base year may also be possible for measuring changes to trade flows arising from the proposed introduction of Freeport operations.”

Phoebe Warneford-Thomson, Policy Manager and Economic Analyst at the British Ports Association, who is leading the Port Connectivity Review, said:

“Research published today confirms that policymakers must prioritise road investment and last-mile connections to ports when seeking to strengthen the nation’s connectivity.

Investment in transport infrastructure can be used for a dual purpose, as connecting ports allows coastal communities to thrive. According to the analysis published today, at least 70% of freight leaves a port via road, the vast majority of which is carried on local roads before reaching the Major Road Network and Strategic Road Network. By funding local transport infrastructure and ensuring the swift movement of freight out of the local area, growth can be unlocked in the economy as delays lead to a loss in value, thus representing a good return on investment by Government.

As well as this, air quality can be improved and congestion alongside reduced travel times for residents, helping to ‘level up’ and improve quality of life for coastal residents around the UK.
This report thus provides industry and Government with an updated picture of where investment would be best targeted to ensure maximum efficiency of the UK economy.”

On the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail published today, Miss Warneford-Thomson also said:

“We welcome the publication of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail today and hope that the Government’s plans to overhaul the industry and create a new organisation incorporating Network Rail, called Great British Railways, will enable due focus to be placed on the availability of rail freight transport to and from ports and limit the number of passenger projects consistently taking precedent over freight-based schemes.

As the BPA’s new research published today highlights, rail freight is growing in importance and we are optimistic that the overhaul of the rail industry and the Government’s newly established growth target for rail freight will signal an increased role for freight transport by rail.”

The British Ports Association represents a wide variety of ports, including operators that manage over 400 ports and terminals around the UK. These ports collectively facilitate 86% of maritime trade in the UK as well as providing hubs for energy, marine services, fishing, recreation, and tourism. The BPA is currently undertaking a long-term review of key elements of port connectivity, including surface access and digital connectivity.

Port Centric Logistics Partners are a Liverpool-based boutique advisory firm who bring a detailed knowledge of the way in which ports are operated and configured, with strategic insights from market analysis and the competitive landscape for new business development opportunities.