Transport Secretary Mark Harper has set an “ambitious” target to grow rail freight by at least 75% by 2050.
Mr Harper said increasing the amount of goods moved by train will lead to economic and environmental benefits.
He believes setting the target will encourage more private sector investment in the sector.
One freight train can replace up to 129 lorries, while moving a tonne of freight by rail produces a quarter of the carbon emissions compared with road transport, according to the Department for Transport.
Mr Harper said: “Rail freight helps keeps this country moving, ensuring our supermarket shelves are stocked and materials are supplied to our construction workers.
“Not only is it the most efficient and environmentally friendly way of transporting many goods, but it helps grow the economy across the country.
“This ambitious plan demonstrates this Government’s confidence in the rail freight sector, and I hope it encourages businesses to capitalise on the extra opportunities, so the industry continues to thrive and deliver for our country.”
Rail industry body Rail Partners previously called for an ambition of trebling rail freight by 2050.
Chief executive Andy Bagnall said: “While the 75% level of the growth target is a good start, we will need to go further to really shift the dial of moving freight from road to rail.
“If rail freight simply maintained its market share, that would mean 60% growth by 2050. So, the sector will now continue to work with Government to put in place the policies needed to achieve, and exceed, the target.”
John Smith, chief executive of operator GB Railfreight, said: “Having a published rail freight growth target is a clear signal that the UK is committed to reducing carbon emissions and meeting its ambitions to be net zero by 2050.
“Our railways have long been the backbone of our economy and today’s announcement allows private companies like GB Railfreight to continue to invest in innovative technologies.
“Confidence in rail has recently been eroded and this target is a fantastic signal to companies to consider rail to move vital goods up and down the country.”
In October, representative body the Rail Freight Group described the Government’s decision to scrap HS2 north of Birmingham as “deeply disappointing”.
The initial plan for the high-speed railway would have taken many more long-distance services off existing tracks, creating more space for freight trains.
Following the announcement of the 75% target, Rail Freight Group director-general Maggie Simpson said: “We are delighted that Government has recognised the economic and environmental benefits of growing rail freight.
“This target sends a strong message about the benefits and potential of rail freight which will encourage investment by industry and private businesses, and attract more customers to move their goods by rail.”
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