It was a pleasure to welcome Peter Graham, Head of Policy & Regulatory Affairs for Freightliner, to our meeting on 6th October. Peter’s presentation was split into three themes, starting with the origins and history of Freightliner, before discussing current operations and concluding with a reflection on current threats and opportunities for the business.

Peter started by reminding us that the Freightliner concept was born out of the 1963 Beeching Report. The initial limited network connected London to Glasgow via Liverpool and Manchester, providing a domestic intermodal service. The 1960s trains were much shorter than today, typically comprising of fifteen wagons.

The expansion of Freightliner, especially post-privatisation has been dramatic. Now part of the Genesee & Wyoming organisation, Freightliner operates a port-centric intermodal operation, moving containers from those ports to inland terminals. The longest services are up to 775m, equivalent to the distance between Euston and King’s Cross stations. Freightliner has also expanded into moving other commodities with the HeavyHaul arm and expanded its fleet from 80 locos and about 1,000 staff at privatisation to 180+ locos and 2,000 staff today.

Peter was clear that railfreight’s greatest challenge is from road and he is an enthusiastic advocate for moving more freight by rail. Currently rail only accounts for 8% of the freight moved in the UK, so there is a huge opportunity for growth. There are economic, social, and environmental benefits from the move to rail, including reduction in emissions, less lorries on the road network and efficiencies of moving more product in a single train.

Peter reflected on recent challenges including the ongoing industrial relations issues and the creation of Great British Railways and how this will affect the day-to-day structure of the railway. An interesting presentation concluded with a lively question and answer session, which explored the themes and opportunities raised in Peter’s talk. A thoroughly enjoyable evening and a highly recommended speaker to other branches.