The advantages of rail freight can be summarized thus:
- The inflexibility of the modality is also its strength, provided the characteristics of the commodity conveyed exploit the economies supported by the characteristics of rail (see points 7, 8, and 9 below).
- There are several CSR advantages for companies who switch to rail (see 3, 4, and 5 below).
- Rail is increasingly seen as an effective “green” alternative to road transport.
- Wagon quietening technologies are improving the social acceptability of rail freight.
- On a per fuel/mile basis, diesel electric locomotives are far more economical than both petroleum and diesel powered road vehicles.
- For the transportation of low value, high bulk/high weight loads such as coal, construction-use aggregates, chemicals, fly ash, and other industry-use commodities, rail is cleaner and cheaper than road.
- Wagon technology is highly robust, making them economical to maintain.
- Weights of 20-25 tonnes per axle make heavy wagon loads economical over distance.
- Trains of up to 750 metres are permissible in most European countries. Fewer, longer trains represent more profitable use of locomotives and train paths. High bulk or high weight commodities, especially in concentration are extremely difficult to move by other modalities.
- Intermodal freight (shipping containers) volumes are increasing, and many UK and European ports have plans for capacity increasing upgrades. Rail, more than road, is suited to conveyance of large numbers of containers from port to inland freight parks.