The Rail Freight Group (RFG) was delighted to welcome Nick King, Group Director, Network Services, Network Rail, as its guest of honour for its Christmas Lunch 2019. He spoke in detail about the challenges the sector faces and said work was needed to move toward a much more integrated railway.
Addressing 780 RFG members and their guests at the Royal Lancaster Hotel on 12 December, he praised the work of the freight sector and said that over the past five months he had been working closely with partners to understand the challenges and pain points that impacted users.
Joining Network Rail this year from a position previously running Queensland Rail in Australia, he has a unique view on how the UK railway has evolved.
He thanked RFG members for their “frank and “direct” feedback on the challenges the sector faces and said: “Having just come back into the country, I have been impressed with the resilience and inventiveness in the sector…I have been struck firstly by the role and importance of freight and its major contribution to the UK economy, but secondly though how little rail freight is understood outside of the immediate industry.”
“The network sees 5m passengers and 600 freight trains a day and the £1.7bn economic benefits are crucial to how the country functions and will only become more important as the country grows.”
Addressing concerns over the future he said: “We are entering a time of fundamental change for our railway. Not just for Network Rail but for the whole industry. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take a fresh look at the infrastructure and make a positive difference for all users.
“We need to create a virtual, vertically integrated railway. It will be crucial step in how we get our railways working as an integrated system…We need to have a stronger national freight team. We need to provide capacity and capability, which is key for the industry to grow.”
RFG’s Director General, Maggie Simpson, gave a detailed account of the year, its highs and lows, and drew particular attention to the resilience of the sector. She said: “This year has been particularly challenging for business, with Brexit uncertainty economic instability and political turmoil…We have seen numerous new services starting, in the bulk and intermodal sectors. New terminals have come on stream and increased market presence, while others have been under construction or successfully navigating the planning system. Customers and freight operators have been bullishly chasing growth and taking risks on getting trains started,” she said.
RFG Chairman Ken Russell also thanked Network Rail for its support in 2019 and said that despite its somewhat short-sighted “Putting passengers first” campaign, colleagues at the infrastructure manager had worked tirelessly to help achieve great success.
Thank you to everyone who attended this year’s RFG Christmas Lunch. As always it was a fantastic sell-out event that provided members and their guests an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends, make new business connections, and celebrate the rail freight sector. On the day the champagne raffle raised £4,300 for Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, the RFG’s chosen Christmas charity.