THE VOLUME of rail freight moved declined during 2017-18, but at a slower rate than the previous year, according to data from the Office of Rail and Road.

The total volume across the year was 17.0 billion net tonne kilometres, 1.7% down on the previous year. Of the seven commodities, coal saw the greatest decline at 12.7%, continuing the ongoing trend as the government closes coal-fired power stations. The largest share of freight moved was recorded by domestic intermodal traffic at 40%, although it saw a 1.4% decline in the volume moved.

The two commodities seeing an increase in freight moved were construction (up 1.5%) and international (up 12.7%); construction was the second-largest commodity in terms of freight moved. ORR suggests an increase in house building and other construction activity may have increased the amount of construction material moved by rail freight.

ORR has also released the results for Quarter 4 of the year (January to March). Year-on-year the volume of freight moved was down 5%, the lowest Q4 total since the time series began in 1998-99. Six out of seven commodities recorded a decrease, with only international traffic growing. ORR notes all commodities suffered delays and cancellations due to snow and freezing weather during the period.

This also affected performance, measured by the Freight Delivery Metric (FDM) – the FDM was 2.1% lower than the previous year.

The total amount of freight lifted, which accounts for the volume in tonnes but not the distance moved, was down 5.6% in 2017-18 to 75 million tonnes. In Q4 the total was 19.0 million tonnes, the highest across the year but down 7.0% on the same period in 2016-17.

The freight delay per 100 train kilometres rose 12.3% across the year to 12.1 minutes, while the Q4 result saw a 12.8% increase compared to the same period the previous year.

The decline in rail freight also shows in the number of freight train movements, which at 216,000 in 2017-18 was down 3.5% on the previous year and the lowest since the time series began in 2003-04.

The total number of freight train kilometres travelled in 2017-18 fell 3.2% to 32.9 million, again setting a record low since this data series began in 2010-11.