UK Rail industry applauds sustainable start up

Phil Read faces the cameras at Varamis Rail industry event at London Liverpool Street Image Simon Walton

Some companies are blurring the destination between passenger and freight-carrying operations. Network Rail chair Lord Peter Hendy lent his support to one ambitious start-up, at an industry gathering on Wednesday (13 March). The occasion was a public unveiling by ground-breaking express logistics operator Varamis Rail. The new company was parading its proposition to guests, ahead of proposed services into the heart of London.

Varamis Rail has been not so quietly plugging away at the modern express logistics market for over a year. The company has taken redundant electric multiple units and converted them from passengers to parcels for a rapid turnaround between Birmingham and Glasgow. At Liverpool Street in London, the company made a clear statement of intent. They have the capital next in their sights, and all the vast potential market that represents.

The vanguard of a raft of operators

Lord Hendy was unequivocal in his praise for the concept. He remarked that Varamis had completely changed the way of doing business on the rails, and had put forward a proposition that might just change the railway for the better. The Network Rail chair also warmly applauded the reuse of redundant rolling stock. He said that although the 1980s vintage Class 321 electric multiple units had largely outlived their usefulness to the passenger market, the class was only halfway through its working life.

The Varamis Express train on the main line
First-class delivery. The Varamis Express on the line … and at high speed too.

Commenting further on the rebirth of the units as high-speed, parcels and light logistics carriers, Lord Hendy expanded on the economical and enlightened extension of their usefulness. Although commending Varamis for leading the way, he said he hoped that they would be the vanguard of a raft of operators, finding new uses for serviceable but superseded rolling stock. He hoped that the network would soon welcome more pioneers like Varamis.

Fostering a cleaner, healthier environment

However, for some would-be customers, there remain some negotiations on matters of bottom-line cost. One observer from the logistics sector believed their road-based carriers were able to significantly undercut the cost base offered by rail services. However, Varamis is not alone in lobbying the government to level the playing field. Phil Read, the managing director of Varamis has been outspoken on his desire to see some attention paid to addressing the costs attributed directly to the railway at large. There is a widely held belief that rail faces costs which perhaps road carriers do not bear as fully.

Scott Wilding of Transport for London; Phil Read of Varamis Rail; Lord Peter Hendy of Richmond, chair of Network Rail

Nevertheless, other factors stack up in favour of rail-based logistics. Significantly, given London’s ultra-low emissions traffic regime, the zero-emissions offer from Varamis has struck a chord with the capital’s administration. “[Wednesday’s] event signals a significant leap forward in our commitment to sustainability and improving air quality in central London”, said Scott Wilding, Principal Strategy Planner at Transport for London. “By prioritising rail freight solutions, we’re not only reducing congestion and emissions on our roads but also fostering a cleaner, healthier environment for all Londoners. Freight transportation plays a pivotal role in preserving our city’s air quality and vitality.”

High-volume goods into the heart of central London

Varamis Rail is already running high-speed freight services between Birmingham International and Bellshill, serving Glasgow. The non-stop run is, arguably, the fastest operating service (end to end) on Britain’s busy West Coast Main Line. Now, the company has set its sights on a new zero-emissions freight service into central London. That service may even be into the City of London if Liverpool Street proves to be their operational base. The venue for their showcase has excellent potential and would avoid any possible disruption at Euston, where redevelopment is a distinct possibility, and uncertainty over the HS2 high-speed rail project still exists.

“Varamis Rail continues to promote the sustainable benefits that the UK rail industry has to offer the logistics sector and wider economy”, said Phil Read, their managing director. “Our showcase event has given an opportunity to key stakeholders from the logistics sector [and] local government [the opportunity] to visualise a more sustainable method of moving high-volume goods into the heart of central London with our fleet of repurposed fully-electric former passenger trains. If the UK government target of net-zero emissions by 2050 is to be met, then ambitious, carbon-free initiatives like Varamis Rail service offering are not just desirable, they are essential.”

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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UK Rail industry applauds sustainable start up | RailTech.com