True stories from the Great Railway Disaster; No 89: so you want to send more freight by rail?

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme
Click to follow
The economics of railfreight - and of the country generally - mean that most exports through the Channel tunnel go from the North and Scotland, while most imports are for London and the South-east. So a lot of empty rail/road containers - called swap bodies - end up in London but are needed in the North for reloading. The logical thing would be to fill them up with goods and put them on the rails.

Ah, were it so simple. RailFreight Distribution, the soon-to-be privatised company that provides locomotives for the Channel tunnel freight trains, refuses to carry loaded swap bodies to the North, even though there is space on the trains used to take the empty ones.

The reason is that RFD is not allowed to compete with Freightliners, the railfreight company that was given a monopoly for container traffic within the UK under the terms of its privatisation deal. Therefore, RFD insists that loaded containers must go north by road. Yet, according to Jim White, director general of the British International Freight Association, Freightliners can't even handle this type of container.

"The Independent on Sunday's Great British Railway Disaster" by Christian Wolmar, which includes more than 60 items from this column, has just been published by Ian Allan at pounds 5.99. Send a cheque or postal order, or a Visa/Access authorisation, to the Great British Railway Disaster, Ian Allan Ltd, Coombelands House, Coombelands Lane, Addlestone, Surrey, KT15 1HY. (Tel: 01932 855909 ext 235/236).