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Collaboration is urgently needed to reduce the almost 70 million miles a year that hauliers carry empty containers, those attending the launch of the Independent Transport Commission’s report into the freight industry heard last week.

In his speech following the release of Improving the Efficiency of Freight Movements: the Contribution to the UK Economic Growth, Port of Tilbury chief executive Perry Glading said: “In my view, the main UK exporters, like the whisky industry in Scotland, hold the key. They can ensure that those moving their product co-ordinate and implement a plan to ensure that empty-container running is managed and minimised.

“This should improve their costs; so, in time, it is a win-win situation. They should be engaged within the next stage of this study,” he said.

Report author Nick Gazzard said one of the key things the ITC would like to do next was to launch a case study into the whisky export industry and how it could reduce empty container movements. This would be under the auspices of an independent UK freight planning working group – the setting up of which was a chief recommendation of the current report.

Mr Glading said that the top four container hauliers in the country serving Felixstowe, Southampton and Tilbury together covered around 200 million miles a year, with at least 30% of that transporting empty containers.

“There have already been a number of approaches to this issue, all of which, to my knowledge, have not been conducted in collaborative enough manner with the wider UK logistics market,” he added.

In addition, his report found that proposals to create container pools were unlikely to so solve the problem of empty repositioning, and said that “route co-ordination is much more important than the container-sharing mechanism in reducing empty container positioning”.

Mr Glading added: “You have to get to the whisky industry and [shippers like] Mars and Procter & Gamble and get these type of organisations to understand the effects on the freight industry of their cargo routings.

However, reducing the number of empty moves and more efficient routing of full boxes to capture export cargoes is a difficult business, and further complicated by such factors as the large variety of box types used in the UK – 20fts are favoured by exporters such as the whisky trade because of the heavy nature of the cargo.

UK retail imports tend to arrive in 40ft boxes because of the lower weight of the individual items, while intra-Europe shortsea volumes are carried in pallet-wide 45ft boxes that are too large for the cell guides of deepsea container vessels. And there is also the divergence between the standard 8ft 6in’-high containers and the 9ft 6in’ high-cube boxes unable to be used on some rail routes in the country.

However, the report also suggests that increased use of port-centric logistics models, combined with intermodal services, could see larger volumes of empty container movements reduced.

“A variation on this is the shipment of containers to national distribution centres for unpacking, using rail, with rapid turnaround and return. This would eradicate considerable UK road freight mileage that occurs when delivering to traditional import centres such as the Midlands,” it says.

Mr Glading added that shortsea shipping should also be considered, although it would likely need government support.

“Containers offloaded at the ports for storage and the cargo distributed within the UK are normally distributed by rail in batches,” he said. “This multi-containering can be moved by a sea coastal route – a method of moving containers around the British Isles that has over time lacked real momentum due to grants not being able to keep pace with demand. The Freight Facilities Grant process is certainly an area in need of review.”

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  • Mark Kirkham

    July 24, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Whilst researching my start-up business last year, I came across similar statistics, whereby I found that 500,000 haulage vehicles are running empty on UK roads every day. Nine months into the business and these figures have panned out and every day we find new like-minded customers looking to reduce dead mileage on our roads. As always there is a lot more we can do and we are always looking for new opportunities to help create a more efficient and greener industry. I would appreciate any contacts or references from customers and hauliers looking to take advantage of our services.