Motorway gridlock puts trucking giant on the rails

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The Independent Online
Eddie Stobart, the nation's favourite trucker, and the man whose distinctive fleet of green, white and red lorries has become a legend in its own layby, is poised to make the transition from King of the Road to King of the Rails.

The doyen of haulage contractors (who insists on the highest standards of dress and decorum from his drivers, and of paintwork and performance from his vehicles) has become so concerned at the congestion afflicting Britain's motorways that he now plans to use dedicated trains to carry consignments of food and drink up and down the land, thereby removing 100 of his lorries from service.

"If rail is the most cost-effective way to distribute goods then we will do it, because if we don't, our competitors will," said Barrie Thomas, his firm's commercial director. "Five years from now, who knows what the congestion on Britain's roads will be like?"

The news may come as something of a blow to the army of "Stobart-spotters", for whom eagle-eyed attention to the individual names emblazoned across the cab of each truck relieves the tedium of transit. Members of the 15,000- strong Eddie Stobart Fan Club may draw some consolation, however, from the fact that Stobart trains will be painted in the same distinctive livery as the lorries - the biggest privately owned fleet in the UK.

Image is important to Mr Stobart. A driver who fell foul of his strict shirt-and-tie dress code during the 1995 heatwave was sacked. Although the man's claim for unfair dismissal was settled out of court, Mr Stobart says firmly: "You only get one chance to make a first impression - drivers must look the part."

While no date has been fixed for the rail service to begin, pounds 25m has already been invested in a distribution centre at Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal in Northamptonshire, with links to the Channel Tunnel. Perhaps from here Mr Stobart can take on his French counterpart - the equally well-loved Norbert Dentressangle. But that's another story. Adam Leigh