Why awards and industry recognition are still so important

When I told someone (in the freight industry) that Solent Stevedores had been named Business of the Year at our annual Rail Freight Group Awards, he expressed surprise. Surely a rail freight company should be the winner? When I explained that Tarmac had won the accolade a couple of years ago, he was even more amazed.

But our awards, held last Thursday (7 September 2023), are designed to recognise excellence in our industry and, importantly, that the rail freight market only works because we have a wide range of stakeholders who use it, support it and run it. It is great to see how many different types of companies are involved and the sort of services they offer.

We have amended the award categories over the years to reflect the continuing modernisation in the rail freight industry and, of course, the changes we have seen in society and the economy generally. Words like ‘sustainability’ and ‘climate resilience’ were not common when we launched 17 years ago. And the importance of software solutions has increased dramatically along with wider technological advances.

Every year we receive award entries outlining the myriad of ways in which our members have managed to use innovative and efficient solutions to improve services, increase productivity, raise safety standards and reduce carbon emissions. We also hear about their contributions to local communities and offer a wide range of recruitment and training options for high-quality skilled jobs.

So why did Solent Stevedores, which operates a terminal at Southampton Port, win the main award this year?

The judges said: “This company has been entrepreneurial and taken risks to lead the drive for rail freight growth at the port. Its current £17.5m investment in a revamped rail terminal has lengthened and redesigned track and developed 12 acres of laden container storage space. This is the third major investment in the terminal in the last ten years and has already increased daily service capacity from five to eight. This will rise to 12 a day by the end of the year. It has been inspirational in the Southampton story.”

This recognises a very basic fact: that rail freight services can only operate if there are terminals or depots at either end of the journey. And that we need companies to invest, often taking risks, in facilities that are attractive to both rail freight operating companies and to customers.

And Tarmac won in 2021 because, as the judges said: “It is as committed to the growth and expansion of rail freight as any of the rest of us. It invests in innovative technology, new wagons and rail-linked facilities. It works across the construction industry to encourage others to use rail – and it provides a clear voice in rail industry organisations and bodies, as well as to local authorities and government bodies. It leads by example and, after all, where would we be without customers like this?”

We would encourage all our members to think about entering the awards next year. It is a great way to get recognition for your company and your staff – and our informal Awards Dinner is always great fun!

By Yvonne Mulder, Project Manager, RFG