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Freight on Rail briefing in advance of the Department for Transport research and announcement on longer HGVs

29th March 2011

Government plans, due to be announced on Wednesday 30th March, to allow the length of lorries to increase by up to 7 feet (2.05 metres) on UK roads are a concern for road safety and the environment.

Philippa Edmunds, Freight on Rail Manager, said:

“Previous increases to lorry dimensions have led to more HGVs driving around with less cargo causing more pollution and road congestion - currently one in four lorries on our roads is empty 1. The proponents of longer HGVs are using the same flawed arguments again to justify the increased length 2. Therefore, before even considering increasing lorry dimensions, existing vehicle efficiency and compliance with existing road regulations 3 should be improved. Already we are seeing demands for even heavier as well as longer lorries, showing that this length increase won’t be the end of it 4.”


Notes to editors

The Government is reviewing whether to increase HGV lengths. Existing maximum length for HGV semi-trailer is 54 feet (16.50 metres). DfT commissioned research to evaluate increasing trailer lengths by up to 2.05 metres which would increase HGV lengths to 18.55 metres (61 ft). This research is due for publication on Wednesday 30th March with forthcoming consultation.

Freight on Rail has published this briefing paper to explain why increasing trailer lengths would undermine road safety and the low carbon economy.

Improving efficiency
The Government should look at improving efficiency of existing sized HGVs, instead of increasing lorry lengths. The claimed environmental benefits of longer trailers would rely on very high levels of load utilisation – in excess of that routinely achieved within the haulage sector 1. Therefore at lower levels of utilisation the environmental performance of longer trailers could be worse as the vehicles will not only be heavier, and will therefore be able to carry less weight, but will use more fuel.

There is a never ending demand for longer heavier HGVs from the road haulage industry, but public hauliers tend to purchase the largest vehicle permitted and use it for small and large jobs, irrespective of the pollution and congestion impacts (MTRU report Nov 2010 Figure 3 P6 Source TSGB 2009). Previous increases in lorry sizes have simply led to more lorries driving around with less cargo causing more pollution.

  • Empty running of lorries reached 29% in 2008 and was 28% in 2009 (DfT figures CSRGT MTRU report P8 Figure 1C)

  • The Freight Transport Association (FTA) is asking for a weight increase of 46 tonnes (Source: FTA, Freight Magazine, October) 4.
    Since the last increases in dimensions there is no direct evidence of larger or heavier lorries leading to reductions in the number of HGVs or total HGV traffic measured as vehicle kilometers. The proponents of longer HGVs are using the same flawed arguments again to justify the increased length, which they used in the past. (MTRU report, p8/9, figure 6) 2.

Road safety
Many HGVs are not following existing road regulations, ranging from exceeding speed, weight and driving hours limits, thus putting the public at extra risk 3.

  • Existing HGVs are over three times more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than cars on major roads due to a combination of size, lack of proper enforcement of drivers' hours, vehicle overloading and differing foreign operating standards (Road Statistics 2008, Tables 3.2 and 3.6, Road Freight Statistics 2008 Section 5, both UK Department for Transport)

  • Over 83 per cent of HGVs exceeded the 50 mph speed limit on dual carriageway non-built-up roads and 75 per cent exceeded the 40 mph limit on single carriageway non-built-up roads (DfT, Road traffic speed congestion, June 2010)

  • The Mayor of London is phasing out the bendy bus at considerable public expense, which at 18 metres are a similar length to the proposed longer trailer, as they caused more than twice as many injuries as other buses (Evening Standard June 7th 2007

Rail freight
Longer trailers would have little impact on road congestion and would undermine low carbon energy-efficient rail, particularly the emerging supermarket rail traffic.

  • Rail freight produces 70 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions than the equivalent road journey (DfT, Logistics Perspective, December 2008, p8 section 10)

  • A tonne of goods can travel 246 miles by rail as opposed to 88 miles by road on a gallon of fuel (Network Rail, Value of Freight, July 2010)

  • An average freight train can remove 50 long distance HGVs and an aggregates train can remove up to 160 long distance HGVs from our roads. (Network Rail 2010)

Legality of increasing dimensions
Increasing semi-trailer length, even for national traffic only, seriously risks opening up the current European Circulation Directive 96/53 EC. Once opened, amendments could be made for increasing the length and weight of HGVs which could lead to mega trucks of 25.5 metres and up to 60 tonnes in weight coming to the UK.

See link to MTRU report on Heavier lorries and their impact on the economy and the environment updated November 2010 at


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