Service would help logistics companies avoid emissions and congestion charges.
Image source: Financial Times
One of the Britain’s busiest railway stations is set to take on a new role as a freight hub as part of a plan to shuttle goods to central London from a container port using old passenger trains.
The first service, which is due to start in May between London Gateway and London Liverpool Street, is intended to help hauliers avoid the charges from London’s Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ), which was introduced this year, and the congestion zone. It would also take traffic off the heavily congested A13 that links the port near Thurrock in Essex to the capital.
A specialist rail engineering company, Rail Operations Group, is working with DP World, the owner of London Gateway, to develop the low-emissions scheme to compete with road hauliers to move consumer goods and freight nearer to their final destination in London.
Karl Watts, ROG chief executive, said the response to its plans from logistics companies and retailers had been “overwhelming,” although he declined to name any customers that had signed up for the service.
Paul Orchard, ROG production director, said a series of different companies — including logistics companies and retailers — were looking at participating.
Heavy goods vehicles that fall short of the standards required for the ULEZ have to pay a charge of £100 for each trip into the zone, which from April this year mirrors the congestion-charging zone in central London.
From October 2021, Transport for London will extend ULEZ to cover the area within the north and south circular roads.
Mr Orchard said road hauliers can face environmental charges of up to £200 on a return trip into the capital depending on timing and the type of vehicle used.
“The margins are in some cases wafer-thin,” Mr Orchard said of road transport. “You start adding in an extra £200 . . . and that’s enough to make rail competitive.”
ROG, which will offer the service under the “Orion” brand, plans to initially run three round-trip rail services per day outside of peak hours. It plans to use two converted, four-carriage trains that previously operated the Thameslink cross-London passenger route.
The trains, due for delivery in May, are having their seats removed and being fitted with diesel engines. The engines will generate power when the train is not running on non-electrified lines, such as the freight sidings at London Gateway.
ROG estimates that each carriage on its trains will carry around the same as a heavy truck. Once the packages arrive at Liverpool Street, they will be distributed to their final destinations around the city by electric van or cargo bikes.
ROG is looking to expand the service and is talking to customers about other destinations, including possible overnight trains between London and Scotland and from London to Bristol.
DP World confirmed it had held discussions with ROG about starting the service. It said it was also talking to the Port of London Authority on plans to use barges to move some goods to a site in Fulham, west London, by river.