Revitalised rail is a game changer for UK logistics

Andrew Wijeyewardena, Senior Manager Rail Operations at Peel Ports explains why the reintroduction of rail freight services from the Port of Liverpool this month comes at such a pivotal time for UK logistics.

On 8 May 2018 we will see the long-awaited return of deep-sea container trains to the Port of Liverpool after a near decade-long hiatus. Operated on behalf of Peel Ports, our first service will provide customers in Scotland with a reliable, sustainable and cost effective gateway to global export markets via the Port of Liverpool.

For Scottish exporters, containers will be consolidated at Mossend. The rail service itself has been specifically designed to give exporters the opportunity to shorten their supply chains. Having been loaded to the train in the early hours of the morning, containers will arrive at the port’s Seaforth rail head before 10:00. Furthermore, the train service has been scheduled to run on days which provide maximum connectivity to trans-Atlantic vessel schedules. On arrival at the port’s rail head, a journey of less than 400 meters will take each container to the quayside or directly to a vessel’s hold.

Similarly, opportunities exist for those forwarders and shipping lines importing via Liverpool; whether moving cargo through the port or positioning empty containers from North West England to Scotland for export collections. The timing of the train’s departure from the port means that arriving import containers can be unloaded from vessel on day one, be transported to the majority of Scottish “central belt” locations by 06:00 on day two and; potentially, return to the quayside at Liverpool for export by 10:00 on day three.

Whilst the service specification is a clear game changer for the market, high performance and service reliability is another obvious requirement that we are keen to ensure materialises. Our rail logistics partner, DB Cargo, has been chosen for its customer service expertise and ability to deliver within the various intermodal markets within which they operate. DB’s demonstrable high levels of performance within the time critical Anglo-Scottish / West Coast Main Line domestic intermodal market (achieving an average 98% right time arrival since 2015) is the benchmark that we will seek to replicate for the Port of Liverpool’s rail service.  

With the obvious benefits of a cost effective and reliable service aside, the societal benefits of an increased use of rail freight are also as significant as they are diverse; reductions in carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and particulate emissions being prime examples. Research by the Rail Freight Group suggests that a CO2 saving of up to 76% and 15 times less nitrogen oxides can be achieved per tonne of cargo moved by rail; compared to equivalent journeys undertaken by road haulage.   

Modal shift towards rail freight also offers a valid mitigation to the productivity gap presented to the UK economy by road congestion. Developing container supply chains towards rail trunk haulage and using road haulage to undertake the “last mile” delivery between inland terminals and customer delivery points is of clear benefit in this context. Augmented by the well-publicised (and seemingly perpetual) uncertainty regarding the next generation of road haulage drivers, the service provides a robust alternative to long-distance trunking by road between Scotland and Liverpool. Quite literally; let the train take the strain.  

With further investment committed to container handling capacity at the Port of Liverpool, we anticipate that the rail service will be the first of several to be launched over the course of the next two years. Subject to correctly targeted public sector investment, notably within trans-Pennine rail infrastructure across the course of the next decade, this growth could be further amplified.

So, after a decade long break for rail freight services at the Port of Liverpool, we’re now in a position where we can actively grow our proposition to support the UK’s growing export potential. UK logistics is changing apace, and we’re glad to be taking a leading role in transforming it by reigniting sustainable and efficient rail services from Liverpool.

Find out more about our new container rail service HERE.

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