Thursday, April 30, 2015

Multimodal Hosts Intermodal Seminar on Switching from Road Haulage to Rail Carriage

A Greener Supply Chain Requires More Effort and Investment
Shipping News Feature

UK – This week saw the start of another successful Multimodal exhibition at Birmingham’s NEC and one of the hot topics was, as ever, the slow transition of freight, currently borne by road haulage vehicles, onto the railway tracks. A seminar conducted at the 2015 event heard that freight trains are now carrying more intermodal traffic, mainly fast-moving consumer goods (FMGCs), around the UK than coal. However more work is needed if rail operators are to wean more customers off road transport and ‘green up’ the supply chain.

Julian Worth, Director of Transworth Rail and Chairman of the Rail Freight Forum at the Chartered Institute of Transport & Logistics (CILT), said that when UK rail services were privatised 15 years ago, the main freight flows comprised heavy, low-value goods and FMCGs were barely on the radar. He highlighted the ‘three Cs’, cost, carbon and convenience, as the reasons for rail’s change of direction. He claimed goods could be transported from deep-sea ports to the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’ in the West Midlands up to 40% more cheaply by rail than by road, and argued the potential saving was 76% lower carbon emissions saying:

“[This is] an order of cost saving for which most people would bite your hand off [and] if you’re looking to de-carbonise your supply chain, there’s nothing more effective you can do. A truck driver would have to offload and turn around inside two hours to pay his way, with a rail box, within reason, you can call it in when you want it.”

Another aspect of the argument however came from Tim Wray, General Manager of Felixstowe headquartered Multimodal Logistics, who said he struggled with that 40% saving, commenting:

“With the merchant haulage market offering such low rates, rail is not a cost-effective option. Capacity when you need it is the issue. Huge vessels all arrive at same time, and coping with the volumes is difficult.”

Wray went on to say that rail infrastructure must improve and more lines should be electrified, as with electric trains having to switch to diesel on route to Felixstowe for example. The East Coast Main Line was not cleared for high-cube containers and transport was therefore cheaper by road. He was unhappy at the use of 60 foot wagons, saying 45 foot units were needed.