Licenced to Rail: Varamis gets green light for express logistics operations

Varamis MD Phil Read on site at Doncaster Source photographer Simon Walton

Doncaster-based Varamis Rail has been granted a licence to operate in the UK. The news was welcomed by their founder Phil Read in a warmly received announcement to the market. The approval from the Office of Rail and Road is a huge step towards unlocking their proposals to operate a modern express logistics service between the English West Midlands and Scotland.

The authorities have satisfied themselves that the company has the necessary compliance to begin operations. Two years after RailFreight.com first reported their ambitions, the start-up express logistics operator intends to swiftly move forward with plans to operate converted former passenger electric multiple unit trains.

Parcels failed to survive privatisation

Light logistics is a sector from which the railways largely withdrew in the mid-1990s. Despite several commercial efforts, the traditional parcel operation failed to survive the privatisation, which took the railways out of public ownership. However, with the explosion of online retail and door-to-door delivery, which has been accelerating during and after the pandemic, several operators have been exploring the viability of re-entering the market.

End-on Cross-transfer model for Varamis (Varamis Rail graphic)

With the commercial climate much improved, and a government mandate to decarbonise the economy, conditions have much improved for would-be operators. Furthermore, the chronic shortage of long-distance truck drivers has shifted the economic balance back in favour of rail, particularly for long-distance, high-volume operations. It is that segment that Varamis has targeted.

Carbon-free plans are necessary

The Office of Rail and Road formally granted an operators licence on 12 September, giving Varamis Rail leave “to be the operator of trains being used on the network for the purpose of carrying goods on the railway”. Varamis says that if the UK economy is to meet the UK government target of a clean air economy by 2050, then ambitious, carbon-free plans, like theirs, are not just desirable, they are necessary.

“We very much want to tie in with the clean-air strategy”, says Phil Read, their enthusiastic founder and managing director (pictured above, on-site at their Doncaster base). “Long distance road vehicles will struggle to handle the volumes that rail can, and will always be behind the technological edge when it comes to taking the carbon out of the economy. Rail operations like Varamis make sense for that trunk part of the chain”. With their licence in place, Varamis can plan to deliver on that promise.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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