Letter: How to put loads on the right track

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article regarding the proposed use of 44-ton lorries to railheads ('Bigger, better lorries, and a rail piggy-back', 4 August), is absolutely right to suggest the move 'looks sensible' even if the main parties either damn it, or, like the Government, propose it for the wrong reasons and without the right safeguards.

The Freight Transport Association, by its predictable reaction to the proposal simply confirms its lack of interest in anything other than road-based movement, and is out of touch with the mood of the nation with respect to HGVs. Its argument that 44 tons can be accommodated within vehicles no longer or larger than at present and without additional road damage are, of course, quite fair. That is one of the reasons why the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Civic Trust supported the Government's rail-related proposal. But the FTA needs to be aware that the community is profoundly concerned at the damage that is already being done at present weight limits, as the citizens of a historic town such as Ripon will confirm. And if you were to ask the man or woman in the street whether they have noticed any reduction in lorries since we went from 32 to 38 tons, the answer would be unprintable.

Most environmental groups therefore see the proposal as the thin end of a 44-ton wedge - and they can hardly be blamed. But we need to be more positive and use the change as a first step in developing a proper strategy for rail freight, particularly, as you suggest, using the new ideas for 'rail piggy-back'. John MacGregor's other incentives in this direction are inadequate, and his privatisation motives transparent.

It would be wrong, nevertheless, to ignore the potential of the new proposal. Of course it is difficult to police and it needs more control on routes used and distances travelled, something that the Government has shamefully chosen to ignore. But it may finally be the start of something 'sensible'.

Yours sincerely,


President, RTPI

Director, Civic Trust,

London, W1

5 August