Thursday, July 25, 2024

Royal Mail to stop using its own freight trains after almost 200 years

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Royal Mail is to stop using its own trains to transport post after almost 200 years.

The company has confirmed it will decommission its remaining freight trains by 10 October, with a plan to increase the amount of post it moves by road.

The move comes as Royal Mail’s parent company, International Distributions Services (IDS), is the subject of a £3.6bn takeover bid from Czech billionaire Daniel Křetínský.

Royal Mail began running trains to transport post in 1830, with the service reaching its peak in the lead up to the second world war when more than 130 trains were used on the network. It now runs just six, which are almost 30 years old and considered at the end of their operational lives.

A Royal Mail spokesperson said it was becoming difficult to secure parts for maintenance and, after reviewing plans to acquire new trains, it was decided that using other commercial rail services and increasing road deliveries was a better option.

They said: “To improve reliability, increase cost effectiveness and remain consistent with our environmental goals, over the coming months we will cease operating our own trains while continuing to use a mix of rail, road and air to transport mail to all corners of the UK.”

However, DB Cargo, which operates the services, said the decision represented a U-turn by Royal Mail, which had previously committed to increase its use of rail freight to meet its ambition of being net zero by 2040. In 2022, the Telegraph reported that bosses had drawn up plans to more than treble postal volumes transported by rail and cut the amount of road deliveries.

Andrea Rossi, the chief executive of DB Cargo UK, said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the move to axe trains, first reported in the Daily Mail, suggesting it could result in an extra 10,000 HGVs being added to “our already congested roads”.

The company estimates that about 3% of its mail is transported by rail and the additional driving workload would create more than 30 full-time driving jobs. It has 5,000 electric vans in operation, while many of its HGVs are operated using biodiesels.

The changes come days after Royal Mail confirmed it was halving the number of daily chartered flights transporting post around the UK, to 18, and forms part of a plan by Martin Seidenberg, the chief executive of IDS, to carry out “the biggest network change in 20 years” to revamp Royal Mail’s deliveries.

The company has said it will press on with the shake-up despite the ongoing takeover bid by Křetínský’s company, EP Group. The offer promises a number of undertakings and contractual commitments, including maintaining the delivery of first-class post six days a week.

The Royal Mail rail service has held an important role in British culture over the decades.

It was the subject of the famous 1936 poem Night Mail by WH Auden, and an accompanying documentary, which charted the journey of one of these trains dropping off letters from London Euston to Aberdeen.

In 1963, thieves escaped with more than £2.6m, the equivalent of £69m today, after holding up a Royal Mail service travelling from Glasgow to London, in what came to be known as the Great Train Robbery.

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