Freight train trial could lead to railway rebirth

Freight train trial could lead to railway rebirth

Freight trains, carrying critical business supplies into major cities in the UK, may start rolling again for the first time in over 20 years, delivering faster services to businesses, and saving thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions, following a trial into Euston Station by TNT Express last night. The trial, run by the UK’s business-to-business express operator, in conjunction with Colas Rail, Network Rail and Transport for London, saw a specially-commissioned train carrying tonnes of supplies from leading UK retailers/manufacturers Staples and Bristan, arriving into London during the night of 4th/5th June.

The goods were sorted in a special operation on the platform side, then delivered to hundreds of stores/suppliers throughout the capital by a fleet of waiting electric and zero-emission delivery vehicles.

Simon Harper, Director of Operations, TNT Express UK & Ireland, said:

“We are very keen to understand whether, by potentially supplementing our core road network with selected rail services where feasible, we may be able to better support our customers and their businesses with an even faster and more reliable service.”

Such a move would mark a dramatic rebirth of the railway as a business-to-business freight channel. More than 20 years after similar activities ceased, it would also mark the re-emergence of rail stations as key centres for moving large mixed quantities of business supplies around the country.

The project aligns with Government policy to encourage greater “mode shift” of freight from road to rail, as evident in Network Rail’s recent ‘Freight Market Study’ which forecasts a potential doubling to 45.2bn tonnes per year in rail freight traffic over the next 30 years.

Ian Wainwright, Head of Freight and Fleet at Transport for London, said:

“During the 19th and much of the 20th century, the UK’s rail network was the backbone of the freight industry, moving products and goods across all corners of the country. This new trial will help in understanding how major cities can re-integrate this delivery option along with the recent growth in rail passenger journeys, helping to shift freight back onto the rails and free up local roads while reducing emissions by using the cleanest vehicles available.”

As well as delivering a much faster service to customers, with trains running at up to 95mph, moving an element of freight from road to rail will also significantly cut carbon emissions, with every tonne moved by rail saving around three-quarters of the emissions per kilometre compared to road haulage.

Future adoption of such rail services would enhance and build upon TNT Express’ existing road network and capabilities, by which the vast majority of the company’s transport needs would continue to be met, including onward delivery of freight moved by rail.

While the trial train originated from Rugby, TNT Express’ long-term plan would be to consider developing high-speed, long-distance services from various regional locations, including its largest sorting hub at Kingsbury (Warwickshire), which already has direct access to rail sidings.

The trial is being sponsored by mode shift specialists Intermodality, which has been involved with the European Commission and other stakeholders in a series of projects to encourage greater use of rail and more sustainable city logistics options in moving freight.

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