Rail Freight in Great Britain - Rail Freight Privatisation Era - C

Rail Freight in Great Britain - C

Rail Freight Privatisation Era

When British Rail was privatised in the 1990s, six freight operating companies (FOCs) were set up:

Trainload goods was split into three geographical units (all were purchased by Wisconsin Central and merged to form English, Welsh & Scottish (EWS) in 1996):

  • Mainline Freight in the south-east.
  • Loadhaul in the north-east.
  • Transrail in the west.


  • Railfreight Distribution was also sold to EWS in 1997.
  • Rail Express Systems was also sold to EWS in 1996.
  • Freightliner was privatised with the brand name retained.

The opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 allowed direct goods trains to run between the UK and the continent for the first time. Freight services are also offered by the Getlink truck shuttles.

Subsequently, EWS's nuclear flask train operations were sold to the new company Direct Rail Services set up by British Nuclear Fuels.

GB Railfreight was a new freight company established in 1998 by GB Railways. It was later owned by FirstGroup, Europorte and EQT Partners.

Deutsche Bahn purchased EWS for £309 million on 13 November 2007. On 1 January 2009, EWS was rebranded as DB Schenker along with Deutsche Bahn's Railion and DB Schenker divisions. In March 2016, DB Schenker was rebranded as DB Cargo throughout Europe.

Since 1995, the amount of freight carried on the railways has increased sharply due to increased reliability and competition, as well as new international services. Major road haulage operations such as the Stobart Group and WH Malcolm move goods by rail, hauling supplies for Asda and Tesco. Morrisons also uses rail freight, as do Marks & Spencer and many more retailers.

A symbolic loss to the rail freight industry in Great Britain was the custom of the Royal Mail, which from 2004 discontinued use of its 49-train fleet, switching to road haulage after a near 170-year preference for trains. Mail trains had long been part of the tradition of the railways in Great Britain, famously celebrated in the film Night Mail, for which W. H. Auden wrote the poem of the same name. Although Royal Mail suspended the mail train in January 2004, this decision was reversed in December of the same year, and Class 325s are now used on some routes including between London, Warrington and Scotland.

The Department for Transport's Transport Ten Year Plan called for an 80% increase in rail freight measured from a 2000-1 base. By the year 2015 rail-borne intermodal traffic is scheduled to double, and by 2030 the whole of rail freight is expected to double at 50.4 billion tonne km.


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