Channel Tunnel vision for rail freight distribution service

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Channel tunnel

Channel Tunnel vision for rail freight distribution service
Initiative on track for temperature-controlled distribution from mainland Europe

There is "great potential" for intermodal, temperature-controlled distribution rail freight services through the Channel Tunnel said Lord Tony Berkeley, chairman of the Rail Freight Group, as trailblazing initiatives launched last month.

However, he said take-up would be slow at first, with logistics providers, retailers and processors steering a careful course. "They will want to ensure the price and service is right."

He added that loading and unloading and shifting from rail to road needed further attention.

Lord Berkeley's comments followed Stobart Group's tie-up with DB Schenker Rail - now its main rail freight provider - to offer intermodal, temperature-controlled rail freight services through the Channel Tunnel.

"We're looking at ambient as well as temperature-controlled and we have received a lot of interest from suppliers and retailers about how they can execute this service," said Stobart chief executive Andrew Tinkler. "It will mostly cover chilled to start, but there's a great deal of interest from frozen food suppliers. It's also not just about what comes north, but what goes south. There's a lot of interest in export - more than we expected, in fact."

The Stobart-DB Schenker deal becomes effective in October and uses a shared multi-client train from Valencia in Spain to the UK. It will run three times a week, with each trip carrying 30 reefer boxes from packhouse to store.

The Stobart-DB Schenker alliance follows fresh food supplier Bakkavör's announcement that Norfolkline Logistics had transported a consignment of its melons from Novara, Italy, to Birmingham, through the Tunnel. It is believed to be the first such move for several years.

Temperature-controlled deliveries through the Tunnel have previously been limited by the lack of regular freight rail services and associated technology. "You have to have reliable track and trace capability," said Lord Berkeley.

Norfolkline general manager Graham Stephen said: "We want to open this up to the rest of the market and believe it can compete in price terms with road transport." At present the deal was limited to Bakkavör's fresh food, but Stephen added: "We're in preliminary talks with the major [UK] supermarkets and the range of products [being distributed] will be wider, from chilled to frozen."

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