Warehouses used by Britain’s biggest retailers are investing millions of pounds into new rail links to combat a shortage of lorry drivers and take advantage of HS2 boosting train capacity.
Rail connections have been added to four major warehouse and logistics hubs under development as retailers try to move freight off the roads to slash their carbon footprint.
Warehouse giant Prologis, which is adding train capacity to its freight hub in the East Midlands, said more of its customers want to use rail in their supply chains.
Meanwhile Segro is constructing a rail freight hub in Northampton to open in 2023 and is expanding a site with train links already operational in the East Midlands.
A rail freight interchange is also being planned by Tritax near Hinckley, Leicestershire.
Industry sources said more major retailers are looking at switching their goods to rail freight amid supply chain disruptions. One retail source said: “There is definitely more interest in rail both from a sustainable perspective in cutting carbon and logistics in reducing the need for as many [lorry] drivers.”
The plans to transport more goods by rail will be boosted by HS2 adding to the network’s capacity, and growing environmental concerns as each freight train takes up to 80 lorries off Britain’s roads. Tesco credited using more rail freight for keeping supermarket shelves filled during the HGV driver crisis.
Andrew Pilsworth, managing director of national logistics at Segro, said: “The pandemic has been a real catalyst in the growth of online retail, which has also increased the demand for our warehouses and rail freight facilities.”
Clare Bottle, head of the UK Warehousing Association, said the lorry driver shortages are “absolutely part of the thinking” as cheap labour is “not as readily available as it once was”
“There are some big developers and in particular Prologis and Segro are probably the two developers that appear to be most interested in building rail connections.”
She said train capacity would be improved by the main part of HS2 going ahead but added that the eastern leg being scrapped is “bad news” for rail freight.