Secretary of state for Transport Clare Perry has told the rail freight industry that it must respond to developments such as the autonomous truck, and electric vans, in order to retain its ‘green’ credentials.

In a speech to the rail engineers forum on 15 June Perry said that "the automotive sector is evolving at a tremendous rate”.

“In the lifespan of one freight train, we can expect four or five generations of HGV, each delivering higher performance, greater efficiency and lower emissions,” she said.

Perry added that the ‘electrification’ of the road network would challenge rail’s green credentials. “We’ve seen around 30,000 plug-in car and plug-in van grant claims submitted since the grant scheme began in 2010.

Claire Perry MP

Claire Perry MP

“Autonomous road vehicles and the platooning of lorries are being developed around the world. And trials of autonomous road vehicles will take place here in the UK in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry,” she added.

However Perry said that rail freight had been “a great success” and that since the privatisation of the rail network its growth and performance had been remarkable.

“Rail’s share of the freight market has doubled to 11%,” she said. “Productivity has improved significantly, with rail freight carrying 70% more goods but with 30% fewer train paths, all reducing costs for customers.”

She added that Britain now has one of the most dynamic rail freight markets in Europe.