The rail freight industry is working together to keep essential supplies moving on the West Coast Main Line – the busiest mix-use (passenger and freight) railway in Europe.

Network Rail and freight operating companies are responding to rising demand for goods like food, fuel and medicine during the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic.

Ordinarily, rail freight goes largely unnoticed. Much of it travels by night, rumbling in darkness to and from every part of the country to keep shops, pharmacies and hospital stocked.

Britain’s lockdown has underscored the importance of freight. The number of passenger services has fallen sharply in recent weeks as we have urged people to stay safe at home and prioritised freight trains. At the same time, customer demand for critical supplies like store cupboard items and toiletries has surged.

Our priority is to keep vital supply routes, notably the West Coast Main Line and its key arteries, open.

Tim Shoveller, managing director for our North West and Central route, said: “Rail freight has never mattered more than now for the people of Britain. Our job is to continue moving critical supplies where they’re needed – keeping supermarket shelves stocked, hospital medicine cupboards full, power stations fuelled.

“Our frontline ‘key workers’, including signallers, control room staff and track engineers are the hidden heroes in this national team effort. They are helping [National Health Service] medics to save lives and keeping shop shelves stocked, and I’m proud of them.”

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Coronavirus and the railway

How is freight helping Britain?

  • Freight plays a crucial role in keeping the country’s lights on. Trains carry biomass from Liverpool docks to the Drax power station in Yorkshire, as well as petroleum from Scotland to Dalston in Cumbria and from Humberside to Kingsbury Oil Terminal in the West Midlands.
  • Royal Mail trains continue to take parcels and post between Wembley and Shieldmuir, Scotland.
  • Scotland does not have any deep-sea ports so it relies on freight services through our North West and Central region to keep its shops stocked. This includes huge volumes of bananas, pasta, toilet roll and other essentials. Shoppers can find these goods in supermarkets and high street shops the very next day.
  • Freight companies are looking at how they can reconfigure the trains to get more containers per train to meet a forecast rise in demand over coming weeks and months.

Maggie Simpson, director general of industry trade body Rail Freight Group, said: “The rail freight industry is working flat out to make sure essential supplies are available on supermarket shelves, that the lights stay on and that the warehouses have all the goods we need for online shopping.

“It is a real testament to all our staff, and those at Network Rail and across the railway for keeping up with changing demand and helping the whole of the UK in these difficult times.”