The UK’s biggest rail freight carrier is attempting to avert a strike, that could potentially mean even more transport problems as we prepare to leave the European Union.

DB Cargo UK, which handles half of all the country’s rail freight, is in conflict with the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) over the union rights of members being transferred to a new intermodal joint venture with haulier Maritime Transport Group.

DB Cargo runs extensive services through the Eurotunnel into Europe, so any strike action would have a significant impact on the country’s post-Brexit freight capability, and in particular put pressure back on a road freight sector that is already struggling with endemic driver and capacity shortages.

In January, DB Cargo UK and Maritime Transport announced the launch of their JV, Maritime Intermodal, with DB Cargo running Maritime Intermodal’s four rail operations out of Felixstowe and Southampton, while Maritime Intermodal will be responsible for DB Cargo terminals in Trafford Park, Manchester, and Wakefield.

But the TSSA wants the union rights of its members to be transferred with them to the new JV company and, if no agreement can be reached, is planning to ballot its members on national strike action, which would bring UK rail freight to a standstill.

A spokesman for DB Cargo UK told that regarding new contracts with Maritime Transport Ltd., “We have consulted with TSSA and complied fully with all our obligations under the TUPE regulations.” Transfer of Undertakings (TUPE) laws preserve employees terms and conditions of employment in the UK should they be transferred to a new employer.

The two sides have agreed to continue discussions over the coming days, but TSSA said its position was clear and unwavering.

Manuel Cortes, TSSA general secretary, said. “No one wants to see Britain’s freight network grind to a halt, especially in these uncertain times dominated by Brexit. However, this dispute raises just such a spectre.”

If the partners in Maritime Intermodal can overcome their union issues, the JV makes a lot of sense. Maritime Intermodal brings together two of the largest freight transport companies in the UK, and the JV will drive growth in both freight and intermodal capacity.