Stobart on track for six new rail services

Eddie Stobart is looking to launch another six train services this year to add to its existing rail freight operation for retailer Tesco, according to chief executive Andrew Tinkler. He says that two services from the Midlands are "very close" to launch and will hopefully be announced within the next month. Tinkler adds: "They reduce truck miles and save fuel, so they work both environmentally and commercially." However, Tinkler stresses that a rail service can only work if it attains 100% utilisation for both legs of the journey.

On the Tesco operation, which sends one train per day from Daventry to Grange-mouth, five days a week, Tesco freight is loaded on the northbound journey and then a mix of Tesco and other customers' products for the return leg. Tinkler says that the firm will look to work with customers to switch freight to non-road modes where possible. It is currently planning to upgrade its facility at the Port of Weston near Widnes to allow it to accept feeder ships, but Tinkler says that this will not proceed without customer backing.

He also revealed that the group wouldn't rule out future acquisitions if the right opportunity presented itself. Last week the firm announced pre-tax profit of £3.5m in the year to 29 February (MT 15 May), although Tinkler prefers to use another figure, the Earnings After Fleet Financing Costs (EAFFC), which was £5.4m for Stobart Group, £9.5m for Eddie Stobart and £2.5m for O'Connor Group.

No backing for protesters

The RHA and FTA insist they will not lead next Tuesday's Park Lane fuel protest despite overwhelming support for such a move in last week's MT poll. Although we only received 70 responses, 68 of those were in favour of the trade associations leading the protest, which has been organised by pressure group TransAction. However, a substantially lower percentage (45%) said they would be taking part themselves, citing distance or commercial pressures as reasons for non-attendance.

Despite this, there were a large number of sizeable hauliers within the list of respondents, including Richard Fry from Framptons Transport who is an RHA board member, promising to send vehicles to the protest. But Roger King, RHA chief executive, insists that another Park Lane protest does not fit in with the association's strategy. Instead it is focusing on a mass lobby of parliament "on a date yet to be announced". This is in response to an amendment to the Finance Bill proposed by the SNP, which would introduce a fuel duty regulator.

King stresses that next week's protest is too soon after the last one on 29 April and adds: "We don't believe that the majority of our board and regional councils think it's necessarily right to engage in another protest with trucks four weeks after the previous one, without knowing where this is going." For its part, the FTA also stresses that it has not seen any appetite for protest among its membership. Policy director James Hookham says: "Most of [our members] don't feel [a protest] is the best way of getting their voice heard.

"Look at the kinds of names within our membership and taking those sort of brand names to the streets is not something they would want to do." He says the association will continue its policy of lobbying MPs. Mike Presneill, co-organiser of TransAction, says that he has been promised support by a large number of major haulage firms. He adds: "People are telling us that they are ashamed of the RHA because it is not heading the protest." Presneill has now written, as an RHA member, to each of the RHA's 12 board members in a bid to win the association's official backing for the protest. He says that two board members have already given positive responses to his request.