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On Track Supply Chain – Delivering Parcels By Rail

The courier industry is always growing, changing, and becoming more competitive. Retailers are always on the lookout for the fastest, most convenient way to get their goods to customers, and if you’re in the logistics industry, this might mean that your next contract involves a little travel by train!

Amazon Sets the Benchmark

In December 2014, online retail giant Amazon caused a splash announcing its newest superfast delivery service, Prime Now, that promises to get parcels to the buyer in one hour or less. At the time of the announcement, Prime Now was only offered in New York City, but over the past year, the service has expanded to include many parts of the United States and United Kingdom.

How Do they Do It?

But how can a retailer guarantee a delivery in only 60 minutes? In the case of Amazon and New York City, the couriers (who work under a self-employed courier contract) making the deliveries have been using the city’s subway system to circumvent the gridlocked street traffic. The move has couriers in Britain’s capital wondering: could the London Underground and trains be next?

Parcels on the Tube?

Some local courier firms see a future for a specialised delivery service using Britain’s existing rail infrastructure. London-based international courier ParcelHero says that parcel delivery via subway makes sense, as underground trains are typically faster than using the roads above them. Furthermore, ParcelHero says that underground stations are the perfect place to install parcel lockers, which commuters can use to collect their deliveries without making an extra trip.

Back to the Future

The integration of parcel delivery service and rail isn’t exactly new to Britain. Between 1963 and 1999, you could send express registered mail and parcels through Red Star, a British Rail service that used passenger trains to transport parcels throughout the UK. Royal Mail also used to operate Travelling Post Offices (TPOs) – mail trains in which post was sorted en route – but those services ended in early 2004.

Though these rail-delivery services are no longer in business, mainline and underground rail stations are increasingly becoming key points for the retail and courier industries. Amazon has parcel lockers at Finchley Central and Newbury Park Underground stations, for example, and grocers like Waitrose have similar collection lockers at underground and mainline stations, as well as at service stations.

Delivery’s a Doddle

In 2013, Network Rail, which manages 18 of the biggest stations across Britain, partnered with British entrepreneur and philanthropist Lloyd Dorfman to roll out parcel shops at mainline stations across the country. The joint venture, called Doddle, has been immensely successful in large urban rail stations, where commuters can pick up parcels on their way to or from work.

But what does this shift toward using rail stations as depots mean for the couriers doing the actual delivery? Should they expect rail station deliveries to be a regular part of their next courier contract? It’s on the cards. With convenient, accessible collection lockers in train stations, couriers may indeed be making fewer trips to the post office and more to major transportation hubs. Delivery drivers working under a self-employed courier contract from Amazon or a similar online retailer might soon find themselves riding the tube with the nine-to-five commuter crowd to deliver a parcel at top speed.

In an industry so reliant on quick and reliable service, delivery by rail just might be the next big thing – and that’s only good news for the industry. Watch this space…

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