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If you are still unclear as to whether rail can work for you, or you want contacts to start commercial discussions, you can contact the Mode Shift Centre to seek advice. The Centre’s advice can help you decide if there is the potential for rail to be an option for you. To contact the Centre click here.

If you already believe there is a case to consider you may wish to initiate conversations with logistics service providers (LSPs) or rail freight operating companies (FOCs) now, as they will be able to quote on a no commitment basis for actual service offers.

Business Process - getting on to rail

Internal research should be carried out to confirm movement details.  The shipper needs to gather information on the volumes, unit sizes, required timings, desired frequency and any special requirements.  Whilst logistics companies should be able to work around your requirements, sometimes the utility of rail for your business can be improved with some minor operational changes by the customer (eg flexing the timing of availability for collection). It is useful to be aware in discussions with LSPs/FOCs of what flexibility you have, and which needs are business critical.

The next step is to gather service information in response to your need. To do this shippers are advised to find potential partners to act as Logistics Service Providers (LSPs). The LSP can then deal with the rail freight operating company (FOC). Alternatively, the shipper may want to deal direct with the FOC. In assessing this, it is important to appoint a project manager to steer this work.

You should expect information on price, service availability (timings etc), the suitability of rolling stock to be used by FOC (for example in terms of your loading/ unloading arrangements if you are using your own sidings etc), information on the reliability of the current services provided by the operator and contingency plans should the rail network have disruption at any point.

This is all part of building the business case for incorporating rail as a part of an integrated supply chain.

Environmental savings also need to be assessed. This is important because it is the basis of grant applications that can make a possibly commercially marginal rail traffic feasible. Knowledge of this also helps with gaining reputational and public perception benefits through PR work that can accompany switching to rail.


Monetary values are used by the Department for Transport (DfT) as a means of quantifying the benefit of shifting freight from road to rail, and these values are used in the calculation of environmental benefits grant applications. The Mode Shift Benefit (MSB) approach is used to assess hgv cost externalities and the environmental benefit of transfer to rail. The environmental benefit calculator used in this can be found at Transport Direct.  However, LSPs and FOCs will be best placed to advise and manage grant issues and will be able to factor any potential benefit into prices that they quote.  For those trying to start out in rail use, we would advise that you simply make use of their services for this issue.

Business Case

Obviously a robust business case needs to be built to see if the use of rail for your flow will stack up economically. This needs to take into account the factors that we have already looked at. If the business case stacks up then a review prior to launch of the new rail flow needs to be undertaken.

It is vital to ensure that service and performance KPIs are agreed within the business and that these measure not only the performance of rail but also its performance against road flows. The same considerations apply to contractor performance management regimes.  You should ensure that the indicators used reflect the particular needs of your company.

For larger flows, rail freight train operating companies can run trials to assist in proving that the logistics work. The timetabling of train services and how this will fit in with the shipper’s logistics also needs to be evaluated.

If you are to make use of rail it is useful if some internal rail knowledge is developed to allow an effective interface with the LSP/FOC. This can usually be gained through the process of developing the new service, but where rail traffic is to grow, it may need to be supported by training.