RAIL FREIGHT volumes appear to be stabilising after a period of decline, with the Office of Rail and Road reporting the volume of rail freight moved in the first quarter of 2017-18 (April to June) was unchanged compared to the same period last year.

Construction and domestic intermodal together accounted for around two-thirds of the 4.2 billion net tonne kilometre total, which ORR says is the second largest proportion since the time series began in 1998-99. By contrast, coal recorded its lowest figure since the start of the time series, and only the international category accounted for a smaller amount of freight moved during the quarter.

The largest year-on-year increase was for international freight, which was up 14%, albeit on small volumes. Oil and petroleum had a 5% fall and recorded its lowest Q1 figure since the time series began, while there were modest increases for construction and metals traffic.

The amount of freight lifted, a measure which takes no account of the distance travelled, was down 3% to 18.7 million tonnes, the lowest across all quarters since the time series began in 1996-97.

Freight performance was marginally worse than the previous year, with delay per 100 train kilometres rising by 3% to 10.0 minutes, although this is still the second lowest figure recorded since the time series began in 2007-08.

The total number of freight train kilometres during the quarter was eight million, down 2% on the same period in 2016-17, and the lowest total since the time series began in 2010-11. DB Cargo and Freightliner Heavy Haul both recorded their lowest totals since the start of the time series. Despite this, DB Cargo still accounted for nearly half of the total freight train kilometres recorded during the three-month period, while Freightliner Intermodal and GB Railfreight were the only operators to see growth in overall freight movements.