PRIVATISATION of British Rail in the mid-1990s saw the bulk of its freight businesses acquired by what became EWS, somewhat nullifying the intention of creating competition between different companies, apart from in a few relatively niche areas.
Step forward to today, however, and the situation has changed dramatically. EWS is now DB Schenker, although it can still be regarded as the spiritual rump of British Rail’s freight operation in many ways. Working methods have moved on, and the company was the instigator of the ‘Class 66 revolution’ now standard amongst freight operators – but it still owns many ex-BR locos and is based at the ex-BR ‘super depot’ at Toton.
More importantly, many traditional freight flows once operated by EWS/DBS have disappeared over the past two decades, such as countrywide mail traffic, parcels, wagonload and – most significantly – coal. Meanwhile other areas, such as intermodal containers and aggregates, have grown – opening the door to new entrants to the rail freight market.
All of which means that, on a measure of total freight tonne kilometres worked, DBS is no longer dominant – and, in fact, only holds a slender lead over its nearest rival Freightliner, with GBRf not too far behind either (see page 9). Now with Freightliner set to take over the Mendip Rail stone traffic, intermodal demand still rising, and sizeable HS2 construction contracts on the horizon, then we might soon see DBS lose its position at the top for the first time ever.
What is clear, however, is that the rail freight market does now have the competition that 1990s Privatisation set out to achieve.
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