Stakeholders right across the rail freight sector have felt first hand just how tough this year has been, and for the wider UK economy as a whole. Here, in no particular order, are a few of the top achievements in 2011.

Direct Rail Services (DRS) operates first service utilising WH Davis’s SuperLow45 wagon. The SuperLow45 wagon has changed the way rail companies in the UK do business. Retailers’ demands encompass high-cube containers more and more and operators must work to meet that demand. This new service is remarkable in so many ways, demonstrating that container services can be viable for shortsea containers. And it is part of a welcome move into intermodal rail from Teesport.

High-gauge capability delivered at Southampton: A huge and important project, completed ahead of schedule and on budget, that paved the way for rail freight growth in the region. Since the high-gauge route opened, rail market share from the port has increased by almost 10% and now stands at an impressive 39%, setting the standard for deepsea ports.

DB Schenker proves HS1 can be used for freight: On 11 November, DB Schenker secured a landmark victory for the rail freight sector when it proved beyond doubt that freight could move efficiently and effectively through the Channel Tunnel to Barking.

First high-cube service to operate over F2N: The second gauge-cleared route from Felixstowe was open for business at the start of April. Indeed, GB Railfreight’s first train ran less than 24 hours after the last bridge was rebuilt, showing that sometimes the rail industry can move very quickly indeed.

McNulty Review praises freight’s efficiencies. RFG was pleasantly surprised by the acknowledgement by Sir Roy that freight was playing its part on driving down inherent costs and securing ever greater efficiencies.

Rail Freight Group Awards go from strength-to-strength. This year saw another fantastic RFG Awards, which attracts more and more people each year. The Business of the Year Award went to Hutchison Ports (UK), which scooped two awards for its on-going commitment to growing the use of rail freight.

Powerhaul loco enters service in UK: The Class 70 Powerhaul loco has been gradually introduced by Freightliner over the year and is proving its might. With its greater power, it is enabling longer and heavier trains to operate, maximising the use of each path on the network.

Tesco expands rail operations: Tesco has been increasingly active in rail this year, with the announcement of its new rail-linked warehouse at Daventry and the recent launch of two new services. Other retailers are also making more use of rail, and helping to stimulate growth in domestic intermodal services.

Network Rail creates Freight Director role: Although there have been concerns over Network Rail’s move to devolution, the industry was pleased that the post of Freight Director, arguably missing for some time, has been created. Tim Robinson took up the post in November, and is already making his mark.

Government confirms support for rail freight interchanges: The publication by the Department for Transport of policy guidance on Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges is a major step forward, showing government commitment to growth in rail freight, and assisting those developers keen to proceed with large scale projects in 2012.

Tony Berkeley is Chairman of the Rail Freight Group, the representative body of the UK rail freight industry. He is a past President of the European Rail Freight Association and is a member of the House of Lords and Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Rail Group.