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Couriers Geared Up to Keep Pace With Demand For Express Delivery

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Worldwide courier services companies have been cutting costs and getting themselves into shape as they position themselves to compete in a post-recession market which will be characterised by leanness and efficiency. The market for express delivery services is one area where industry leaders are targeting their efforts, in line with changing expectations of the scope of service companies and individuals expect of post and parcel carriers.

This is partly driven by the expectation-raising effects of e-mail and other instant messaging services. And while sending a simple message containing text only, or text and basic graphics or images is now almost instantaneous, the speed at which a parcel can be transported will always be restricted by the prevailing conditions affecting the particular mode of transport used.

Air and road services are now the favourite choices of express delivery service providers, as they provide a good combination of speed between major logistics hubs and outlying cities, towns and villages on the routes which radiate from them.

In many countries, particularly in the UK, rail transport is seen as an add-on to air and road services. Whereas until relatively recently there was a national network of postal delivery centres directly connected to the national rail network, these have largely been abandoned by the main rail operator, English, Welsh and Scottish Railway.

But changes here are leading to isolated signs that rail might once again have a part to play in mainland Britain's network of express delivery operations. Royal Mail now has a three-year contract with privately-owned rail freight operator FirstGBRf to transport mail destined for express delivery by rail between London, north-west England and Scotland.

This means that the long-standing tradition of mail being sorted on the move - which became cemented into British culture thanks to W H Auden's 1936 poem The Night Mail - is carried on to this day, although on a much smaller scale than was the case when it was written, and even compared with just a decade ago.

Nowadays, our motorways have supplanted the UK's main line railways as the main arteries through which our express deliveries pass, and a vast fleet of HGVs - operated by a growing number of express delivery companies - has almost completely replaced the 'blank-faced coaches' of Auden's day.

But this allows for the greater use of automated sorting, so the extra time spent on the road is compensated for by the ability to process mail and parcels through major delivery centres much more quickly, thus ensuring that an express delivery remains just that.

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