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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
Mail trains to be scrapped
The Glasgow-Cardiff travelling post office
Mail trains are to be replaced by lorries and planes
The Royal Mail is to stop transporting post by rail - in a move which will cut costs but end 170 years of history.

The company said its 49 mail trains will begin to be cancelled from next month and stopped altogether from next March.

Royal Mail said the rail network had simply proved too expensive and unreliable, and in future all post would be distributed by road and air.

The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said the move threatened 500 jobs, including posts at dedicated rail terminals across England, Wales and Scotland.

We were shocked, we were amazed, we were not expecting Royal Mail to make this announcement
Allen Johnson, EWS

It also said the move could be an environmental disaster, and called on the government to intervene.

The decision follows the failure of two years of negotiations between the Royal Mail and freight carrier English Welsh & Scottish Railways (EWS).

Road and air

"We were shocked, we were amazed, we were not expecting Royal Mail to make this announcement," Allen Johnson chief operating officer of EWS told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We've reduced the cost of mail on rail by 20% in the last two years and we've also made significant reductions in the many offers we've made to Royal Mail.

HAVE YOUR SAY
A tragedy for our transport network
Andy Crick, UK

"We've got to keep talking to them."

But Paul Bateson, Royal Mail's managing director of logistics, said there was no point continuing to negotiate.

"Quite simply the price on the table was too high.

"They are too expensive and we can get the same quality from the road and air."

'Poor reliability'

EWS said the change would add 160,000 lorry journeys a year to the UK's roads.

But Royal Mail argued that because it would change its distribution network and cut out lorries that currently run half empty, there would not be extra journeys.

This move threatens 500 jobs, it threatens the environment, it threatens the whole idea of next-day postal deliveries and it threatens to cost the taxpayer a fortune
Bob Crow, RMT union
Royal Mail also forecast annual savings of 90m, partly through the opening of a new 40m distribution centre in the Midlands later this year.

Notice has already been given to end four mail train services by the end of July - to and from London and Swansea, Warrington, Norwich and Doncaster.

Royal Mail said last year it planned to stop using rail for the distribution of first class letters because of poor reliability.

But it said it would continue using it for second class and other less time-critical items.

Government blow

About 14% of the country's daily postbag of 82 million items is transported by rail - a total of more than 10 million items.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, said Royal Mail's decision was a "scandal".

When the Royal Mail unveiled its rescue plan, it said delivering more letters by rail would be a key plank of its strategy

"This move threatens 500 jobs, it threatens the environment, it threatens the whole idea of next-day postal deliveries and it threatens to cost the taxpayer a fortune.

"This is a cost-cutting step too far and if the government has any self-respect left they will step in to stop it."

BBC transport correspondent Tom Symonds said: "This decision will be a major dent in the government's policy to increase rail freight by 80% this decade."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Richard Bilton
"Unions say hundreds of jobs could go"



SEE ALSO:
Royal Mail steams ahead
06 Jun 03  |  Business
Black letter day for mail train
09 May 03  |  Scotland
Royal Mail fails delivery targets
30 May 03  |  Business
Royal Mail halves its losses
22 May 03  |  Business


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