14 March 2002 | Robin Parker
A major retailer has accused the British government of failing to make rail a realistic option for long-term freight strategies.
Martin White, supply chain director at Sainsbury's, said the supermarket stopped using rail freight two years ago because the government did not have a "joined-up" approach to it.
White told the Freight Transport Association's annual summit that the Strategic Rail Authority's (SRA) £4 billion commitment to freight in its 10-year plan would not make an immediate impact.
"The challenge is continental scale," he said. "Controlling production in Europe requires a trade-off between manufacturing and transport costs, and it's easier to cut manufacture costs, even if this adds time to freight.
"We use just-in-time deliveries and if I waited for some of the things the SRA's plan proposes to deliver, I'd be out of business."
Sainsbury's is investing £500 million in restructuring its supply chain in the next three to four years as part of its plan to use fewer, bigger depots at locations more strategic for road deliveries.
John Spellar, minister for transport, told delegates that the government is committed to the SRA's target of increasing rail freight by 80 per cent by 2010.
He said that the widespread use of just-in-time had resulted in a 28 per cent gain in UK business productivity in the past decade.
Paul Mengel, chief executive of English, Welsh and Scottish Railway, said rail would remain an expensive option for freight as most movements are very short.
"I hope we can work with supply chain managers to find the appropriate use of rail in integrated transport systems."