How rail freight in our Eastern Region is playing its part

Kevin Newman, Senior Route Freight Manager, Eastern region

Every day, workers at Teesport rail freight terminal load more than 3,000 tonnes of goods onto supermarket trains.

A Tesco train heads south to stock shelves in England, while two services travel to Scotland to keep Aldi and Lidl stores supplied.

Tonnes more supermarket products are loaded onto trains hauling mixed loads of containers right across the country. Just a few short weeks ago, this would have been fairly insignificant everyday activity for workers at the freight terminal. Now, as we all know, it has been thrust right into the frontline of the country’s biggest crisis since the Second World War.

For many of us, the emptying shelves were the first visible sign of what was to come. The supermarkets are working tremendously hard to keep us all fed. And we are doing everything we can to support them by keeping the freight routes open.

An unprecedented challenge…

But of course it’s much more than supermarket goods that we need to transport as we work to keep Britain running. Last week, just in Eastern Region alone, we moved 750,000 tonnes of freight. From fresh food, to washing machines, to crude oil – and everything in between.

Freight is often referred to as the hidden service of our railways. And while all of us who work in freight might like a bit more of the limelight from time to time, there’s no real reason why the people of Britain should know much about our work. They should just be able to turn up to a shop and buy whatever they need – that’s our job.

But it’s never been more vital. And it’s not just because the supermarket shelves would start to empty again without us. The petrol pumps would start drying up and the power stations would run short of fuel. These aren’t alarmist predictions, they’re just a simple reflection of the importance of our work. In many ways, the country has been stripped back to its essentials since the lockdown was announced, and there’s no denying that a functioning freight service is an essential part of modern-day Britain.

…we're rising to it together.

Our ability to maintain that service is going to be stretched to its very limit in the weeks and months to come. We know infection rates from the virus have still to reach their peak. And we know that railway maintenance teams, signallers and port workers are going to get ill along with people in all other parts of society. But we also know that we have to keep going. That we have to keep the freight lines open. And that we have to keep on supplying the shops, petrol forecourts and power stations that people depend upon.

Careful business continuity planning means we know the key parts of the network we need to protect as we keep Britain running. That’s not to say that everything will run smoothly as we work our way through this crisis. We have to be prepared for some bumps in the road.

But we know what we are doing is crucial for the country. We know the size of the task ahead of us and we will do everything we can to deliver on it.