Network Rail says there were 4,839 freight train movements in its Eastern Region in the latest four-week reporting period, compared to 4,760 in the same period last year.
Each train takes an average 76 lorries off the road - equal to 36,700 trips.
Throughout the pandemic, Network Rail has worked with freight operators to keep vital services moving to keep supermarkets stocked up and ensure medical supplies can get to where they are needed.
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Now, rising demand has led to a number of developments, including in Sheffield where Sheffield logistics firm Newell and Wright Transport has redeveloped a disused marshalling yard at Tinsley into a cargo terminal.
It reopened last month after the firm re-laid track and built a platform. Today it handles trains carrying containers from Felixstowe port in Suffolk.
Bosses said the investment was aimed cutting truck usage and emissions and strengthening ties with major shipping lines.
Kevin Newman, senior route freight manager for Network Rail, said: “The figures and these important recent developments highlight the vital role that freight has played in the country’s response to the COVID pandemic and how important it is to the recovery of the economy.
“We’ve seen an increase in demand across the iron and steel sectors and we are working closely with freight operators and the wider rail industry to make sure materials can be transported to where they are needed.
“Reopening routes, expanding services and gaining new freight end customers , as well as running longer, heavier trains, is helping to get more HGVs off the road and more freight onto the railway.”
Other developments include:
* The route connecting Sunderland Docks with Rotherham and Cardiff has re-opened for the first time since the service ceased three years ago, with 10 trains carrying scrap metal expected to run per month.
* Ward Recycling is close to signing a deal to replace the 4,000 tonnes of domestic scrap metal previously taken from Stanton Gate in Derbyshire to Immingham by 200 lorries per week with a rail freight service. A new trial service has already started.
Network Rail owns, operates and develops Britain's railway infrastructure.