Transport Studies Research Group

Freight and Logistics

Freight and Logistics


Summary of recent projects



Research into freight transport, distribution and logistics began in 1978 and has developed into one of the Group's major interests. It is carried out by a leading international research team with the majority of the projects involving national and international collaboration.

Much of the research carried out in recent years has been concerned with the sustainability of freight transport and logistics operations both in the UK and internationally. This work is categorised by the following three headings:

(i)  Sustainable urban freight transport and logistics - as a result of its flexibility, road handles the overwhelming majority of goods distribution in urban areas. Economic, environmental and social impacts associated with this freight activity are significant as a result of the conflicts that result in densely populated areas. The research team works closely with both the public and private sectors to identify ‘best practice’ in urban freight operations, to allow businesses to operate more efficiently while reducing the environmental and social impacts of the movements. This is a particular issue for very large cities such as London, and the team has been involved in a number of projects looking to improve London’s logistics sustainability through improved operational performance, enhanced data collection and analysis, better regulation, and enhanced freight transport facilities.

(ii)  Encouraging the use of non-road freight transport modes - rail freight is typically less damaging to the environment than road haulage, but its current share of the market is low and achieving a shift of traffic from road to rail is challenging. Sustainability concerns are encouraging more interest in rail freight’s potential, for example through companies’ corporate social responsibility’ agendas, and the team has been conducting considerable research to assist both the public and private sectors to better understand the scope for them to transfer freight flows to the rail network. This research brings together diverse topics such as supply chain management, land use planning and rail system regulation and management.

(iii)  Energy use and CO2 emissions along the supply chain - freight operations are a major consumer of fossil fuels and a contributor to CO2 and other pollutant emissions. Scope exists to reduce energy use through the development and promotion of energy saving technology and equipment, and by reorganising freight transport and logistics operations. Traditionally, work in this field has focused solely on the transport vehicle. The research team has developed methodologies and evaluation techniques that investigate energy use and emissions across all transport and logistics stages of a product’s supply chain. This approach is essential in order to determine which stages of the chain are the most energy-intensive to determine how decisions made at one point in the supply chain can affect energy use and emissions at another.

The research team has built up a considerable strength in working with partners from the public and private sector to achieve research goals and ensure knowledge transfer.

Summary of recent freight transport and logistics projects

Freight Transport Data Centre for London (Transport for London, 2006-present). The research team has established the London Freight Transport Data and Knowledge Centre for Transport for London (TfL). The Centre has produced several editions of the annual London Freight Data Report to date which is a supporting document to the London Freight Plan (Allen, Browne and Woodburn, 2010). These report on a wide variety of topics related to freight transport activity in London. The project has also involved working with other organisations involved in urban freight transport to share ideas and knowledge.

BESTFACT - Best Practice Factory for Freight Transport (European Commission, 2012-2016). The objective of BESTFACT is to develop, disseminate and enhance the utilisation of best practices and innovations in freight logistics that contribute to meeting European transport policy objectives with regard to competitiveness and environmental impact. BESTFACT considers interrelated areas of key freight logistics challenges the European Union is confronted with namely: urban freight, green logistics and co-modality, and eFreight.

SMARTFUSION - Smart Urban Freight Solutions (European Commission, 2012 – 2015). The purpose of SMARTFUSION is to develop and demonstrate smart urban freight solutions that help bring about co-operative and sustainable urban distribution in three European cities/regions. These solutions will be evaluated and disseminated as part of the project.

ISPRO - Town Centre Improvements through Sustainable Procurement (European Regional Development Fund, 2011-2013) The project is investigating the potential to reduce town centre business costs and negative environmental impacts through the use of innovations in procurement and freight transport. These innovations include collaborative procurement, Business Improvement Districts, and Delivery and Servicing Plans. These approaches are being trialled and evaluated in three British towns: Cambridge, Lowestoft and Norwich.

SUGAR - Sustainable Urban Goods logistics Achieved by Regional and local policies (European Regional Development Fund and INTERREG, 2008 to 2012). SUGAR focused on addressing the problem of inefficient and ineffective management of urban freight distribution. SUGAR promoted the exchange, discussion and transfer of policy experience, knowledge and good practice in the field of urban freight management, with regards to policy and planning levers between and among advanced and less experienced partners. The research team assisted Transport for London in the dissemination and training.

Hinterland Connections of Seaports (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, 2008-2010). The Group of Experts on Hinterland Connections of Seaports was established by the UNECE Inland Transport Committee and Executive Committee in 2008. The purpose of the Group was to investigate container and ferry transport trends in the UNECE region and analyse policy responses to traffic congestion and other problems. From this the Group developed recommendations for the UNECE and its Member States that will contribute to the quest for equitable and sustainable development by identifying good practice in achieving efficient and environmentally friendly hinterland goods movements, by considering ways in which the specific problems faced by landlocked emerging economies can be overcome, and by outlining how the connectivity of seaports and their hinterlands can be improved. Allan Woodburn was appointed as UNECE consultant to lead the work and to prepare the report. The report also contained the result of a questionnaire survey that was designed and carried out by the Group, which was answered by more than thirty seaport authorities from fifteen countries of the UNECE region.

Freight modal choice study: Addressable markets (Department for Transport 2009-2010). The research team was commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT) to carry out a review of the existing evidence on the addressable markets for rail and water freight, the emphasis being on commodities that are currently moved by road but could be transported by rail and/or water instead. This work formed part of the larger Freight Modal Choice Study carried out by the DfT - the aim of which was to confirm the economic, social and environmental benefits of current freight movements by non-road modes on national network corridors and to identify where changes in future modal choice, from road to rail or water, could achieve appropriate outcomes on the network.

Rail freight service provision in Britain (University of Westminster, 1997-present). This is an on-going monitoring study that feeds into the work of the research team concerned with sustainable logistics as well as providing evidence of changes in rail freight within the UK. An inventory of rail freight service provision in Britain has been conducted as part of ongoing annual monitoring of changes in the non-coal rail freight market. This has taken place since 1997 and provides information at a disaggregated level which, in conjunction with published data, leads to a more detailed understanding of the structure of the rail freight market and helps to identify trends in service provision. The databases also assist with other rail freight research being undertaken.

Freight transport and logistics staff

Professor Michael Browne

Dr Allan Woodburn

Dr Jacques Leonardi

Julian Allen

Marzena Piotrowska