Monday, 7 May 2012

Trends in freight transport

It is almost a year since my book was published and for some of the statistics in it there is another year's worth of data available. The sector that changes most rapidly is probably transport. Here is a short update on the trends in freight and I will look at passenger transport in another post. The last data year in my book for transport was 2009 which showed a sharp drop in goods traffic: road freight was down 13% compared to 2008 in terms of tonne-km carried and 17% down in terms of tonnes carried - so less stuff was being carried though for a longer distance on average.

This dip was due to the recession: the UK economy took a dive and the GDP went down 2%.   However, both the economy and the amount of goods being moved recovered a bit in 2010. The graph below shows the tonne-km metric since the 1950s. You can clearly see the dip in 2009 and though we are up significantly we are still 10% down on the peak in 2007.

Trends in the movement of goods by road, rail and water in terms of quantity x distance.

The trend in the amount of goods carried by international air freight also shows a dip in 2009.  However, the recovery in 2010 is complete.
Trend in the amount of goods moved by international air freight.

More freight means more energy used to ship it about. Lorries and vans account for 22% of all transport fuel use in the UK. However this is only 7% of our total energy use.  Aeroplanes account for another 22% of transport energy but most of this is for carrying passengers. The graph above shows 2.2 million tonnes of goods carried by air across our border but there were 172 million international air travelers in 2010. Estimating that each passenger plus luggage weighs 80 kg the total passenger weight comes to another 14 million tonnes.

When I was writing my book I considered the distance goods travel by air but not by road. This graph shows trends in the average distance goods are moved by road and rail since the 1950s. Not surprisingly the average rail journey is longer than the average lorry trip but this has increased significantly since the early 1990s. Since privatisation there has been a bit of a boom in rail freight (up from less than 6% of tonne-km carried in 1994 to nearly 9% in 2009) and the graph shows it is the long distance freight that has shifted from lorry to rail. This is a good thing because in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, rail freight is much less damaging to the environment - 7-20 times less per tonne-km carried.

Trends in the distance goods are carried.

The new data is from Transport Statistics Great Britain 2011

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