Published: 16th June 2014
Up to rail privatisation 20 years ago, the railways carried many parcels and whether this business would have continued under a unified railway is unknown. But, the digital click and collect age has brought a huge increase in parcels traffic and the latest trial has just taken place to see if rail can capture some of this business.
The test train which ran overnight on June 4/5 was operated on behalf of road and air freight haulier TNT between Rugby and London Euston. The train was formed of several former Great Western green liveried motorail carriages which are ideal as they offer uncluttered internal access. Parcels were put into wheeled sorting cages which were unloaded after arrival at Euston just after 230am.
The trial was operated with Colas Rail, Network Rail and Transport for London brought a special train carrying tonnes of goods from Staples and Bristan, arriving into Euston early in the morning of June 5.
The train’s contents were unloaded and sorted on the platform before being delivered around London to hundreds of stores/suppliers 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."
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."
Prior to the digital age, this was how newspapers were conveyed and sorted into bundles for newsagents on station platforms. (Station staff generally had a free paper left for them!).
A similar test run was made by Stobart in 2012 conveying perishable food for six Sainsbury’s stores but the test was not repeated. But as freight volumes continue to grow on rail and digital shopping increases along with traffic congestion, maybe this time the test will result in more freight on rail. This type of rail traffic can run at up to 95mph and reach city centres so has an advantage over using roads and is far more carbon friendly..
If deemed successful, similar rail services would enhance and build upon TNT Express' existing road network and capabilities and their 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 has rail sidings. But what happens in a few years when Euston is being rebuilt with platform space at a premium is anyones guess.
Network Rail has opened a new section of railway to the north of Doncaster to carry freight services over the East Coast Main Line (ECML). This two mile long double track new line cost £45million and will reduce delays to all services using Doncaster and saw one level crossing closed.
The line will enable more freight trains linking the Humber ports and the Aire Valley power stations to run as they will now not have to be slotted in amongst ECML services. The new line also means trains will be speeded up as they will not have to use the ECML for up to 14 miles removing operating constraints for these slower heavy trains.
There were various claims to have run the first service over the line with Freightliner Heavy Haul Limited using the new line for the first commercial service on June 1 when their Immingham to Ferrybridge train traversed the line at 1pm.
GB Railfreight ran the first locomotive over the new line when No. 66751 used the new line just over an hour before the first train used the line.
Martin Wilks, Director of Coal Services for Freightliner Heavy Haul said:
“We welcome the opening of the Doncaster North Chord as an important new addition to Network Rail’s infrastructure. This is an important project which gives freight trains a clear run towards the power stations, without incurring the performance risk of crossing the busy East Coast Main Line, and will improve the service we can offer to our customers.
John Smith, Managing Director of GB Railfreight, said: “We are delighted to be the first rail freight operator to run on this important new North Doncaster Chord. It’s a great example of a new Government infrastructure project that brings benefits to both the freight and passenger industries, improving capacity on the East Coast Mine Line as well as Trans-Pennine links between ports and power stations in the region.