The rail industry is claiming a surge in the movement of goods by train shows it can help ensure supermarket shelves remain stocked during the lorry driver shortage.
Office of Rail and Road (ORR) figures show the volume of rail freight between April and June was up 36.5% compared with the same period last year, and was 1.3% higher than the same quarter in 2019.
Domestic intermodal freight such as food, clothes and toys rose by 22.5% year on year, and was just 3.8% down on 2019.
The Road Haulage Association estimates that there is a shortage of more than 100,000 lorry drivers in the UK, leading to a number of firms suffering disruption to supplies.
Andy Bagnall, director general at rail industry body Rail Delivery Group (RDG), said: “With the current HGV (heavy goods vehicle) driver shortage the role of rail freight has never been more crucial in transporting goods and keeping supermarket shelves stocked.
“And whether it’s goods or people, to build back better and to create a fair, clean economy for tomorrow, the country relies on a thriving railway.
“To realise its commitment to net zero by 2050 and support economic growth, Government should set an ambitious target to encourage the shifting of goods from road to rail.”
According to the RDG, some 16% of domestic greenhouse gas emissions came from HGVs.
It added that the volume of goods carried by a typical freight train would require 76 lorries.
The overall increase in the volume of rail freight between April and June was driven by increased demand for aggregates such as crushed rock, sand and gravel being used to build HS2, the ORR said.
The movement of construction materials such as these was up 77.8% year-on-year.