Timely service is key to supermarkets looking to rail-transport goods

Freight train operators in the UK are benefiting from organised retailers’ – including Tesco – attempt to improve their carbon footprint. However, to be able to capture this traffic, Network Rail, the infrastructure owner in the UK, and freight operators have worked together to ensure timely freight train service.

“In the UK, customers such as supermarkets and retailers want to use rail because they want to improve their carbon footprint. They find rail more environment-friendly; but super markets want good reliability,” Lord Anthony Berkeley, Chairman of UK-based Rail Freight Group (RFG), told Business Line.

RFG is a lobby body with an aim to promote cost-effective rail freight solutions. It has customers, logistics providers, suppliers, terminal operators, ports and freight train operating companies as it members.

To capture the organised retail cargo market, rail freight operators in the UK worked with Network Rail to improve the time-table of trains. “We have been able to improve the services enough to persuade retailers to set up their distribution centres near railway terminals,” said Berkeley, who is visiting India on the invitation of Institution of Engineering Technology. Tesco stated that in 2011 by using rail network in the UK saved six million road miles and saved emissions 8,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

“Our swap body container – containers that move on trains and trucks – has witnessed an 11 per cent growth in the rail sector,” said Berkeley. Swap body container are light and cannot be stacked on top of other. So they cannot be used in sea – they are used within the UK, Europe either by rail or trailers.

The swap body containers – which handle domestic and intra-Europe trade – have increased their share. Ten years ago, we had deep sea containers moving by rail, but we had no swap bodied container by rail – all the swap body containers moved on road.

“So, between Midlands and Scotland, there was one train a night that moved swap bodied containers. Today, we have 10 trains a night that move swap bodied containers. It’s about 30 containers a train,” said Berkeley.

INDIAN CONTEXT

Incidentally, container train operators in India have been missing out on such customers that require time-definite deliveries as Indian Railways is unable to offer time-guaranteed service to container train operators.

The Indian Railways is a mixed-use network for both freight and passengers, and passenger trains get a priority on the congested tracks. So, freight customers do not have a time-table, unlike passenger services. Container train operators have been demanding “transit time guarantee services” from the Indian Railways.

mamuni.das@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 30, 2012)
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