A scheme to use converted passenger trains to deliver freight into the centre of towns was tested last week using Euston station.

Railways used to earn as much, if not at times more money from carrying freight than they did from carrying humans, but the rise of refrigeration killed off the need for last-minute deliveries into town centres, and the growth in road freight killed of most of the rest. Rail fright today, while still substantial, is mainly for aggregates and cargo containers.

Much of the goods shipped to UK retailers today though comes from regional hubs and delivered by van to the final destination – and this is where the trial of using passenger railways comes in.

A converted Class 319 passenger train can carry freight in the same “roll cages” often used by lorries delivering the retailers, and bring it right into the centre of cities, where the trains park on normal passenger platforms and are unloaded.

These could either be taken to stores by a local van, reducing the mileage on the road, or if carrying goods sold online, the parcels could be unpacked locally and then delivered by bike to their final destination.

As well as retail, the freight operation could transport other light goods needed rapidly by businesses.

Last Wednesday, Network Rail and distribution firm Orion showed how the concept works at Euston station.

In addition to reducing road traffic on the main roads between the warehouse and town centre, the trains can travel up to 100mph – twice the average speed as road traffic.

Some of the UK’s largest parcel carriers have expressed interest in using the new high-speed logistics service using the converted trains. The first will start running later this year between the Midlands and Scotland. More routes could be added in 2022 dependent on customer need and available train paths.

The converted train can operate in 4/8/12 carriage formations, and each carriage carries the same amount of cargo as an articulated lorry.

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12 comments
  1. Melvyn says:

    I suppose just like the old days with Kippers from Yarmouth to Liverpool Street Station !

    These class 319 trains are turning into very versatile trains built to work on AC/DC and able to be converted to use batteries or diesel thus making them go anywhere trains ideal for light freight duties. Now we need to rebuild station infrastructure

  2. Dennis says:

    Remember Red Star parcels anyone? (déjà vu?)

  3. Stewart says:

    To complement this they should look at small warehouses with loading bays close to stations/underneath them or stations that are closer to industrial estatesas there are many small stations across the network not in use past midnight to 0600. This would take a lot of volume off the roads.
    Imagine say for Co op as an example, who deliver everything in these cages via road. Usually 6-12 cages a shop. If you had 1 driver covering a city. Goods come in at night, go into the warehouse and roll onto the back of the truck, any surplus can wait there until the driver returns for a second run. Instead of needing 5 vehicles all coming from the hubs 300 miles away. You suddenly only need 1. With the driver shortage, this is a no brainer.

    This is the biggest issue with the railway costing everyone so much to use, there is no creative thinking on how to generate revenue from forms other than passenger tickets.

    Royal mail stopped using rail as they were using their trains as sorters. A far better idea would be to build a small platform and linking railways to their hubs and just use the network for transport between hubs and delivery offices.

    • Stephen Lawrence says:

      Yes, and in Cambridge we had a sorting office near(ish) to the station, but then they sold it off and moved it to a cheaper part of town. So in a sense the railway becomes it’s own worst enemy since it creates value close to the station, which then can’t be used because it’s too expensive…

  4. Geoff says:

    Things turn full circle all those freight facilities they sold off would be perfect for this!

  5. MilesT says:

    Rail *fright* (amusing typo)

  6. MilesT says:

    I wish this well, but remains to be seen if this will work for enough shops to make a difference. Additional handling road-rail-road (or bike/trolley) creates costs that may not offset by lower road mileage. Roll cages are not safe on street pavements so can’t me manually moved or tugged by electric tug very far (good for in-station retail though).

    Equal efficiency gains likely to be possible with less handling by coordinating last mile into a common van/truck that milkrounds shops located close by. As was done (to an extent) for E20 postcode for Olympics, and is currently done for airport sterile areas. TfL should be mandating shared last mile in next round of traffic management (following on from CC, ULEZ and ULEZ expansion).

  7. Easy Traveller says:

    Problem is getting the freight from the station to the place it’s going which may not be far but a road vehicle would do the whole thing.Another problem is available platform space which I suppose might not be too bad late at night or the early hours and many stations may not have a wide gate to get the freight out especially with all the barriers fitted now.A third is the usual the financial incentives given for road use are not given for rail.

  8. Paul Horner says:

    I was wondering when this would happen. Time to dust off the mail train carriages. Shame BR sold off all the station goods yards in the 60’s and 70’s!! Anyone got a time machine?!

    • JP says:

      Quick, stop the Paddington tower development, stop the student campus where the GPO sorting office at Bristol TM was until five minutes ago! Quick, stop lots of other demolitions!

      History repeating itself: from Mail Coaches, through Travelling Post Office trains, via big heavy Royal Mail lorries with their mega sorting office sheds, to the possibilities presented by this system. You couldn’t make it up.

  9. David Winter says:

    I have distinct recollections of late trains on the pre-Thameslink Bedpan line. All stations to Bedford, with a lengthy pause at Luton while mail bags (and possibly newspapers) were unloaded. Around 1986. Class 317.

  10. Joseph Farley says:

    Perhaps a standardized, (ISO), RFID/IoT/AI, “Trunk-Line-Feeder”- “Roll-Cart”, including non-motorized cold-chain, should be considered for optimal flexibility, for upstream unitization & downstream selectivity, for optimal time/place utility. The “Feeder” design(s) networking advantages connect endless feeders (train/tram/bus/vans/cargo bikes/etc.) with endless, mobile & static rapid transfer points with many functions. The contribution to fixed revenues, for the Public Transport System, is massive & reduces financing hurdles & exposes the unnecessary waste of duplication in conventional distribution strategies. Recycle can be included in some cases.

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