Rail Freight Leading the Challenge of Decarbonisation

The word ‘decarbonisation’ now features constantly in conversations about our future railway. Rail Forum Midlands (RFM) is therefore delighted to update colleagues across the industry on progress with our ‘Opportunities to Decarbonise Freight SME Challenge’. RFM’s Rail Freight Decarbonisation Challenge firmly supports the Government commitment to recovery and Build Back Better and in particular its plan for sustainable growth.

The project has seen several prestigious freight clients providing the opportunity for SMEs to work collaboratively to address the challenges faced by the rail freight industry when it comes to reducing their carbon footprint. Although rail is already recognised as a carbon efficient means of transporting freight, rail freight companies know they need to stay ahead of the game and are keen to further reduce the impact of their operations on the environment.

The SME collaboration challenge process sits within the Midlands Pilots workstream of the Rail Supply Group’s Rail Sector Deal; led by RFM on behalf of the industry with participation open to all SMEs in the UK.

The six clients involved with the Opportunities for Decarbonising Freight challenge included a broad cross-section of the rail freight industry with Freightliner, GB Railfreight, DB Cargo, ERMEWA and VTG all taking part working with Tarmac as a key customer. The challenge was launched in October 2020 when 90 registered companies listened to an in-depth presentation by the freight operators, giving details of their challenge and providing examples of where the supply chain could help with their goal to reduce carbon emissions.

We were overwhelmed that a total of 21 possible solutions were submitted to the clients; these were then presented during two days of online Dragons Den style events.  The ideas put forward included new concepts through to market ready solutions and covered all aspects of rail freight operation from remote condition monitoring, fuel saving solutions, driver advisory systems, depot improvements and alternative forms of propulsion. The sessions were supported by the University of Derby who are working with the client group on wider decarbonisation initiatives and the Department for Transport and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy both of whom offered their support to help make the challenge a success.

Following the Dragons Den the clients have identified 10 specific ideas to take forward either individually or collaboratively. In addition, and as a direct result of the challenge process, the companies behind no less than four of the ideas presented at the Dragons Den have submitted bids for SBRI “First of a Kind” funding, supported by the freight clients involved in the challenge.

RFM will continue to monitor progress and provide support for those ideas being taken forward and is actively working with the group to look at further opportunities for collaboration.

The Opportunities to Decarbonise Freight was the second SME challenge to be facilitated by RFM, the first considered light-weighting of rolling stock. A summary of key strategic lessons learned has now been prepared and recommendations are being developed as part of the work RFM is leading on the sector deal.

Robert Hodgson, Engagement Manager for RFM said “We are really pleased to support this initiative to help bring new ideas and solutions from the SME supply chain to meet the goals and aspirations of freight operators. It is really encouraging to work with a group of dedicated rail professionals who want to do as much as practical to make their part of the industry even greener in the years ahead. An early benefit has been the opportunity to introduce members of the supply chain and freight communities to each other, enabling a deeper understanding of both capabilities and priorities.”

Chris Swan, Head of Rail at Tarmac, said “The rail freight industry is well positioned to support the UK’s decarbonisation ambitions and the opportunities to drive forward innovation and progress are much greater if we work together collaboratively.

This process has allowed potential suppliers to demonstrate some great products and initiatives to the industry, with some ideas being taken forward that will make a real difference to the way we are operating.”

Maggie Simpson, RFG Director General said “Rail freight is a critical part of the UK economy, but tends to be less well understood than passenger rail.  Initiatives like the ‘Opportunities to Decarbonise Freight SME Challenge’ are showing what can be achieved by increased collaboration, bringing fresh innovation into rail freight and helping SMEs understand the priorities and opportunities in the sector. We look forward to seeing the further development of these innovative ideas.”




For further information regarding the SME Challenge contact:

Elaine Clark – CEO



About Rail Forum Midlands:

Rail Forum Midlands (RFM) is a national industry body with strong regional connections including supporting the nationally and internationally important rail supply chain cluster across the Midlands; RFM has over 250 members providing products and services across all aspects of the industry. RFM actively supports the national rail agenda and strategy, encouraging collaboration, promoting members’ capabilities, leading a number of regional skills initiatives and supporting innovation and export priorities. RFM is owned and governed by its members with a Board drawn from member companies.



About Rail Freight Group:

The Rail Freight Group (RFG) has been the UK’s leading rail freight trade association since its formation in 1990. It has around 110 corporate members active in all sectors of rail freight from ports, terminal operators, customers, through to operators and suppliers. RFG’s aim is to grow the volume of goods moved by rail, delivering environment and economic benefits for the UK.


About Tarmac:

Tarmac, a CRH company, is the UK’s leading sustainable building materials and construction solutions business. Tarmac combines the knowledge and expertise of two of the construction industry’s most iconic brands: Tarmac, the pioneers of the modern road and Blue Circle, the company that patented Portland Cement.

Our innovative products and solutions not only safely deliver the infrastructure needed to grow the UK economy today but also help to create a more sustainable built environment for the country’s long-term future. We have contributed to some of the UK’s biggest construction projects, including The Sainsbury Laboratory, Wembley Stadium, Heathrow Terminal 5, Blackpool Sea Defences, The Shard and London 2012.

The company has over 150 years of experience and directly employs around 7,000 people across a nationwide network of over 400 sites. Our solutions span aggregates, asphalt, cement, lime, ready-mix concrete, offsite manufacture, road contracting, highways maintenance and infrastructure services, building products and recycling services.

This unique combination of people, technology and assets enables us to offer customers unrivalled choice, innovation and flexibility. www.tarmac.com

Tarmac press contacts

Please contact the Tarmac Press Office on 08447 36 11 99, or pr@tarmac.com 


About DB Cargo:

DB Cargo Rail (UK) Ltd offer our customers safe, sustainable and innovative rail logistics solutions linking their supply chains to domestic and European markets through our network, service and people excellence.


About Rail Supply Group:

The Rail Supply Group (RSG) is the leadership body for the UK rail supply sector, whose aim is to strengthen the capability and competitiveness of the UK’s rail supply chain to grow business at home and abroad.

The RSG was tasked by Government in 2018 to deliver its Industrial Strategy: Rail Sector Deal, and has committed to the Rail Sector Deal in its Build Back Better: our plan for growth strategy, March 2021.

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