New figures from the Office of Rail and Road have shown that rail freight deliveries are becoming more reliable, with just under 80% of freight trains arriving at their destination within 10 minutes of scheduled arrival time in 2014-2015.

This is up 4.4% on the previous year, and the highest annual average since the Freight Performance Measure began in 2005-2006.

The reliability figure compares with 89.5% for passenger trains.

Earlier this year, the then Office of Rail Regulation revealed that a total of 80 million tonnes of freight were transported by rail in Great Britain during the first three quarters of 2014-2015, suggesting the total for the year will fall well below the 116.6 million tonnes of freight transported by rail during last year’s peak.

New research produced for the Campaign for Better Transport, meanwhile, has suggested a 50% increase in the use of rail and waterborne freight could lead to a 21% fall in HGV traffic, a 5-6% fall in overall traffic and a 15-25% fall in congestion in the most congested places.

The campaign group has called for more research into current HGV movements and the possible effects on truck traffic of a distance-based lorry road user charge in the UK, and for a fresh national freight policy statement “recognising the significant role of mode transfer in reducing congestion… and setting out a route map for rebalancing the freight transport market”.

Reacting to campaign group’s claim, FTA head of regional policy Christopher Snelling agreed that greater use of rail and short sea shipping could, if concentrated on congested routes, result in “very substantial benefits to peak period congestion”.

However, he added, further increases in the use of both modes would require greater flexibility and lower costs.

In terms of rail, said Snelling: “If it wants to gain more market share, it needs incrementally to become cheaper, because that is the sticking point at the moment.”

A move to seven day per week rail freight services would also help, he added. “It’s a handicap if you have to say ‘five days a week, we can move your goods by rail but at the weekend you’ll have to switch back to road’,” he said.