National Freight Model


During this Geospatial Commission and Innovate UK funded project, City Science developed a model of road freight movements within the UK. This national freight model will help provide an understanding of road freight movements, to inform strategies such as decarbonisation for freight transport. As a demonstration, it was applied to the region of England’s Economic Heartland – geographical area shown below. The success of this first phase led to the award of an additional contract for further development of the prototype model.

Map of county boundaries within England's Economic Heartland.


The Geospatial Commission is an expert committee, established as part of the Cabinet Office, that sets the UK’s geospatial strategy and promotes the best use of geospatial data. As part of this remit it funded a competition calling for innovative geospatial solutions to current transport challenges – such as those associated with the movement of goods along supply chains. Given that the UK freight industry contributes ~£120 billion GVA to the economy, and ~30% of road emissions, it is of critical importance to provide decision makers with high-quality, relevant, and easy-to-interpret information to support the planning of infrastructure and operations. However, owing to the lack of disaggregated data, this is a substantial challenge which aligns with the competition’s objectives. To be considered for funding, projects needed to demonstrate a thorough understanding of target user needs and produce a protype demonstrator.

City Science Response

There were two complimentary strands to the project; identifying the target functionality of the model, and the development of new techniques to deliver them.

User Engagement

To identify the data needs of the industry, and how our model might best address those, we sought the views of a range stakeholders. This included: Sub-national Transport Bodies (such as England’s Economic Heartland), Local Authorities, National Highways, industrial stakeholders and logistics experts. We achieved this by utilising a range of techniques, such as one-to-one interviews, workshops, and online surveys. This led to a well-rounded view of the current availability of data, the challenges, and how new information might be utilised.

Model development

The results of the user engagement indicated the need for highly disaggregated freight data, allowing users to see road level freight vehicle flows segmented by cargo and vehicle type. Since this data is not readily available, the City Science team developed and implemented a method to simulate this by statistically fusing a range of data sources and applying our traffic assignment algorithms.

The final outputs of the project were a well-received report and presentation to the Geospatial Commission and Innovate UK, and an example of the prototype outputs when applied to England’s Economic Heartland (see static visualization below). The innovative application of geospatial data to support the specific requirements of the freight industry demonstrated City Science’s successful completion of the project scope.

England's Economic Heartland with predicted HGV flow overlay.


The first phase of the project was delivered on time and to budget, with the model being shown to predict the number of UK HGV trips to within 2% of a government-published statistic. Furthermore, the project received written support from three public bodies – Transport for the North, England’s Economic Heartland, and Somerset Council – confirming its value and their desire to see it progress. Owing to the success of the first phase, City Science were then able to secure a further £500k of funding to more fully develop the model and integrate an enhanced user interface. The resulting software tool will allow users to interactively select roads via an on-screen visualisation, and view statistics relating to road freight – disaggregated by vehicle type and cargo. This powerful tool will be a substantial asset to UK freight industry, government, and the public.

If you would like to discuss this project, and any other freight data needs, please do get in touch via our email.