Tonight a freight train quietly slipped back into London’s Euston station, nearly a decade after the last train departed, and the culmination of 6 years’ work with some of the UK’s major supermarkets, the rail industry and iconic road haulier Eddie Stobart.

Back in 2006 Steve Mulvey, Food Logistics Manager for Marks & Spencer at the time, posed us a simple question – concerned about the ability to continue to service M&S stores in London by road against growing traffic congestion and delivery restrictions, could he get goods into the centre of London by rail instead?

We took up the challenge, working with Network Rail and several rail freight operators to assess the options for running trains with ambient and chilled product from regional distribution centres into the heart of London and other major cities.

Looking across the various major passenger stations in London, it emerged that Euston still retained a largely-disused 18,000m2 (200,000ft2) mezzanine floor, purpose-built as part of the station’s reconstruction in the 1960’s for handling freight traffic to and from the capital, accessed by ramps from the outer platforms on the station which were also purpose-built for handling road vehicles. Given the unique opportunity, Euston therefore became the focus for the project.

By 2010 the project had drawn further attention from client Eddie Stobart, its key rail freight customer Tesco, and others including Sainsburys, as Steve’s original concerns about deliveries in London were now becoming a wider issue. Discussions with rail freight operator Colas Rail led to the company rescuing a small fleet of high-speed freight wagons (last used for carrying cars on the Cornish sleeper services), which were at risk of being scrapped, to provide a means of delivering roll cages into stations across the rail network.

In 2010 the Institute for Sustainability invited Eddie Stobart to join a pan-European consortium seeking to address urban “last-mile” logistics in a number of major cities in North West Europe, including London and Paris. Having secured funding in 2012 from the European Commission’s INTERREG programme, the LaMiLo (Last Mile Logistics) consortium set to work developing pilot projects, including developing a rail service into Euston.

Today’s pilot run into Euston has involved a project team led by Eddie Stobart, working with Colas Rail, Network Rail, Sainsburys and the London Borough of Camden. Colas Rail returned the freight wagons to service, adding securing straps for roll cages, obtained an electric locomotive and constructed a small cross-docking platform at its Rugby depot to allow roll cages to be transferred from truck to train.

Eddie Stobart collected a batch of roll cages with store deliveries from Sainsbury’s distribution centre in the West Midlands, delivering these to the Colas Rail depot at Rugby for loading onto the train. The train then left Rugby for its run into Euston, where the roll cages were loaded into another Eddie Stobart local delivery vehicle, which made a number of overnight runs to various Sainsbury’s stores across London.

The trial run has been a complete success, reflecting the hard work and support by all the parties involved. Network Rail staff from the Freight team and Station management at Euston have pulled out all the stops with Colas Rail to make the train operations work smoothly, in liaison with Camden Council within which Euston is located. Alongside reactivated storage facilities on the station, such services would remove long-distance trucks from London in favour of smaller low-impact delivery vehicles more appropriate for local deliveries to stores and homes.

We were delighted that Steve Mulvey, now retired from M&S, was with us tonight to see his original idea come to fruition.