O Come All Ye Freight-Full: Avalanche of Christmas goods to be delivered by rail freight this year

Issued on behalf of the Rail Delivery Group.

Rail freight operator Direct Rail Services (DRS) is playing a vital role in delivering Christmas across the country.

You’ll often see DRS’s freight trains passing through Carlisle station as they transport everything from Christmas crackers to wrapping paper from Daventry, Northamptonshire to Mossend, Scotland, and back again.

  • This year, rail freight will transport millions of Christmas decorations, trees and bottles of wine including 30% of Tesco’s Christmas range
  • Rail freight has played an important role supporting the country throughout the pandemic and will now ensure people have everything they need to celebrate the festive period
  • Intermodal rail freight which includes goods for retail has increased by almost 20% over the last decade with 1.6million tonnes being transported over the last four weeks
  • With each freight train carrying as much as 76 HGVs, rail freight will help cut traffic jams in the run up to Christmas

New figures reveal that rail freight is set to play a key role in the run up to Christmas this year delivering millions of tonnes of festive goods to shops around the country. Almost a third of Tesco’s Christmas range will reach their shelves by rail freight including a huge amount of Christmas crackers, trees and bottles of wine.

The supermarket giant is increasing the amount of goods they transport by rail freight to boost reliability and reduce emissions to help tackle the climate emergency and has announced a £5million investment in September in their new rail freight equipment. This year 30% of their Christmas products will be transported by rail 70% more than last year including:

  • Nearly 8 million bottles of wine
  • Over 350,000 Christmas crackers
  • 80,000 Christmas trees
  • Half a million boxes of lights
  • Nearly 5 million gift wrapping accessories
  • Around 1.5m boxes of decorations
  • Over 1.5 million Christmas cards

Throughout the pandemic the railway played a vital role getting key workers where they were needed with rail freight keeping supermarkets stocked and power stations fuelled as more people worked from home. Now that COVID-19 will mean a very different Christmas for many people across the country, rail companies are working hard to ensure people have everything they need for the holidays.

In the last four weeks alone, freight trains have transported more than 1.6m tonnes of intermodal goods on almost 3,700 trains. This year, freight trains will deliver festive food, drink, decorations and toys across the country, and also transport the millions of Christmas cards sent to loved ones as well as the all-important letters to Father Christmas.

Robert Nisbet, Director of Nations and Regions for the Rail Delivery Group said,

“It’s been a challenging year for many people across Britain so we’re happy that rail freight can play a central role in delivering Christmas cheer, ensuring families have everything they need to celebrate in style. With only a fraction of the emissions compared to road haulage, every tree, pudding and toy transported by rail is helping to make this a green Christmas.”

The amount of intermodal freight transported has increased since last year and by almost 20% over the last decade delivering significant benefits for the environment. Each freight train can carry as many as 76 heavy goods vehicles with only a fraction of the emissions meaning a modal shift from road haulage to rail will not only help tackle the climate emergency but can help cut traffic jams too.

Chris Connelly, Managing Director for Direct Rail Services who operate rail freight transportation for Tesco said,

Every month we transport around 12,000 containers of vital goods across the country to ensure shelves are stocked and Christmas presents available.

“Using our state-of-the-art Class 88 locomotives we can move huge loads hundreds of miles and, when running on overhead electricity, with zero exhaust emissions, making it absolutely fantastic for the environment.”

Alessandra Bellini, Tesco Chief Customer Officer, said:

“Whether it’s dodgy DIY haircuts or fibbing to the kids for a little peace and quiet, we’ve all had to improvise a little in 2020, which has led to some less-than-perfect (but perfectly understandable) behavior. That’s why this year, at Tesco there is no naughty list, and we want to make sure the nation celebrates in style, whatever that means to them. Rail helps us keep our shelves stocked with everything from brilliant gifts and decorations, to the finest festive food and drink, and almost a third of our Christmas range makes its way across the U.K. by train.”

Rail Minster, Chris Heaton-Harris MP whose constituency Daventry contains the international rail freight terminal DIRFT said

“The sheer volume of festive goods that are currently being transported across the country daily is reflective of the crucial role that the rail freight industry play at this time of year.

“Rail freight has been fundamental in ensuring that the country, and the economy, has kept moving through the pandemic, and I am thankful to everyone working so hard to keep Christmas on track.”

Notes to editors

  • Intermodal is the category of rail freight covering goods for retail. Other categories include Biomass, Coal, Construction, Automotive, Waste, Steel, Iron, Petroleum and Other.
  • Figures from Network Rail show that in between 1stNovember and 29th November, Domestic and Maritime intermodal transported by rail was 1,647,302 tonnes. The number of intermodal freight trains that ran over the same period was 3,698.
  • In 2010/11, the ORR recorded 5.68 billion kilometre-tonnes of intermodal rail freight. The latest figures from 2019/20 this increased by 17.8% to 6.79billion. – Source

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