Rail strikes cut freight capacity to a third of its usual level

There are fears that only a third of the UKs usual freight trains will be able to run following a dispute between unions and Network Rail. The vast majority of rail routes in Wales will have no services on Tuesday, June 21, Thursday, June 23 and Saturday, June 25 because of the walkout by members of the RMT union working for Network. WalesOnline contacted the major freight companies to find out how much the strikes would impact on their ability to move vital goods around the country.

In a statement a spokesman for real freight company Freightliner said that the impact would be “devastating”. He said: “Freightliner strongly urges Network Rail, the passenger operators, the RMT and Government to reach a swift agreement to avoid the significant disruption that the series of strikes will cause. Read more: Train strikes live updates as RMT staff set to walk out

“Although Freightliner is not a party in the dispute, the implications for the rail freight sector and customers, should the industrial action go-ahead on the 21st, 23rd and 25th June, will be severe. “Freightliner has been working with its customers and Network Rail on contingency plans to keep as much freight operating as possible on both the strike days and any days immediately prior to or post action. However, it is likely that less than a third of freight trains will be able to run during the strike week, having a devastating impact on the UK’s already stressed supply chains.”

Eddie Aston, chief executive of Freightliner, said that it would hit UK supply chains hard. “We urge the parties to come together to find a swift solution to avoid any damaging industrial action,” he said. “Without agreement, the pattern of strike action proposed by the RMT will likely cause significant disruption to freight services over the entirety of the week and severely disrupt UK supply chains. Any protracted dispute risks damaging confidence at a time when the industry is primed for growth.” The sentiment was echoed by a spokeswoman from another freight company Direct Rail who said: “We are aware of planned industrial action which will affect the rail network as a whole.

We are working closely with our customers and partners to ensure we can minimise its effects and deliver safe, secure and reliable services.” But what impact will this reduction in freight capacity have on the public. According to Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, there shouldn’t have too much of an impact on getting products into stores due to the sheer amount of produce that makes it way to supermarkets on lorries.

She said: “While the use of freight train to carry retail goods has increased in response to both rising HGV operational costs and in efforts to cut carbon emissions, the overall amount of retail food and goods transported by rail remains relatively low compared with the amount transported by trucks. Consequently, it is unlikely that the rail strikes will have a big impact on the movement of food and other retail goods around the country.” However it was also stressed that there may be an impact down the line if freight deliveries in manufacturing result in delays in production for some goods

Speaking to the i, Jake Kelly, network operations director at Network Rail, said: “We are working nonstop to keep nationally important freight flows – including supermarket supplies and fuel – moving during strike action.”

Though the amount of supermarket goods sent by rail is small compared to road, it is not insignificant.

Tesco last year introduced a refrigerated rail service to help it deliver goods and reduce carbon emissions by taking 17,000 trucks off the road.

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