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Railwatch 079 - April 1999

Railwatch - Safeway on the railway

By Michael Weinberg

It is fitting that the first of our supermarket chains to use rail to transport its products in any significant volume should be called Safeway!

All RDS members will welcome the news that this innovative store is to begin a regular service of containers over the Highland line between Mossend near Glasgow and Inverness.

At first trains will run five days per week, eventually becoming a six nights per week service with trains arriving in the early hours at Inverness for onward distribution by road, to supply goods to five stores in that area for sale that same day. Included will be ambient, chilled and frozen foods and fresh produce, all of which were previously transported by road.

Safeway's logistics director, Lawrence Christensen comments: "Safeway was the first UK retailer to move volume products by rail over a year ago, and the success of that initiative has spurred us on to develop our rail operations even further.

"Our partnership with EWS has worked tremendously well over the last year and illustrates Safeway's commitment to rail."

This development has come about because of a grant of £680,000 from the Scottish Office, and Mr Christensen paid tribute to the efficiency with which the grant was processed.

The grant provided special trailers and containers which can be transferred from rail to road and vice versa.

The marketing director of EWS, Julian Worth said: "We are delighted with this further step in Safeway's partnership with EWS. By moving chilled and frozen products over a distance of less than 200 miles direct to store, it demonstrates that rail can provide a distribution service which many transport experts had previously considered impossible." The Safeway traffic will be included in EWS's Enterprise freight trains serving Scottish destinations. Safeway has become conscious of the increasing congestion on Britain's motorways and in June 1997 began a trial of rail transport to assess the reliability of scheduled delivery times, ease of movement and product handling between road and rail, and quality control of the products. Three dedicated Roadrailer vehicles were used and the first load consisted of wine from Daventry to Mossend.

Following on from that successful trial a permanent service began in October 1997 consisting of two containers a day from Yorkshire to Kent, saving 3,500 lorry kilometres per week.

And so to the Scottish exercise, which Safeway says has been primarily driven by the environmental advantages rail can offer. It will remove 9,360 lorry journeys from the road during the next three years. Lawrence Christensen asserts that it "really does illustrate how rail is becoming a part of Safeway's overall transport policy." To put things in perspective, Safeway, which is the third largest retailer in the UK, has a fleet of over 600 lorries, running around 98 million kilometres, and using nearly 7.5 million gallons of fuel per annum, so there is lots of potential for rail.

Congratulations should go to Railtrack for improving clearances on the route to accommodate the Safeway traffic.

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