Nestlé UK's supply chain director has called for greater investment in Britain's rail freight infrastructure, as the food giant embarks upon its first major UK rail distribution initiative to transport food and drink from York via Selby in North Yorkshire up to Grangemouth in Scotland.
The rail container project, whose announcement is expected soon, once practical issues surrounding pallet sizes that can be handled are resolved, involves an unnamed multiple retailer and rail specialist Potter Group, which operates a railhead at Selby.
While Nestlé will transport confectionery, coffee and possibly coffee up to Scotland on an overnight basis by rail, retailer involvement is crucial in ensuring trains are full.
Tesco already moves products by rail into Grangemouth in a daily service from Daventry in the West Midlands, while Asda has switched some of its transport from road to rail, saving in excess of 20M road miles. Sainsbury and Morrison have also switched some movements from road to rail. Compared to the continent, though, volumes of food and drink transported in the UK are low.
Nestlé's UK and Ireland supply chain director Chris Tyas, who is also co-chairman of the Efficient Consumer Response (ECR) group in the UK, has called for the "big six" priorities for action on transport in the government's Food Industry Sustainability Strategy (FISS) to be expanded to include rail freight.
The six priority areas for action identified by the FISS champions group on transport were: use of greater capacity vehicles; friendlier out-of-hours deliveries; friendlier engine specifications; better use of vehicle 'telematics'; transport collaboration; and logistics system redesign.
However, Tyas says: "There is one that is missing and that is support for rail. The infrastructure does not make us good for rail and we have tried lots and lots of times on some of our long distance projects and found it very difficult to make it work."
In its recent White Paper the government announced plans to double rail transport by 2030 and to develop a strategic freight network. Around £200M has been allocated between now and 2014 on developing rail freight projects.
However, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) argues this is less than 2% of the £10bn committed to spending on the whole railway network over the same period. Potter Group executive chairman Derrick Potter agrees that the sums allocated to rail freight are insufficient.
Tyas claims problems lie with the whole rail network, where there is insufficient capacity and not enough terminals capable of dealing with multi-modal transport. "We are encouraging government to work with us to develop the rail network and rail infrastructure to take freight off the road," he says.
At present Nestlé's use of rail in the UK is "absolutely minimal". For example, all deliveries of bottled Perrier and Vittel water from the continent destined for the UK arrive at Dunkirk by rail where they then have to be transferred to road. "We have to bring them across by road because there is not the rail infrastructure to get us around - particularly to get around London," says Tyas. However, part of the problem also lies with the prohibitively high charges levied for rail freight through the Channel Tunnel.
Meanwhile, the FTA has welcomed the Department for Transport's announcement that it would be funding the Gospel Oak to Barking diversionary freight route around London.