Marks & Spencer is to open its first distribution centre with a rail terminal as it proceeds with its 2020 business improvement strategy and Plan A sustainability programme.

The retailer has conditionally agreed a lease on a 900,000 sq ft warehouse in the East Midlands Distribution Centre, near Castle Donington, which will include a rail link.

Rail distribution is becoming increasingly common among big retailers as they look to promote their green credentials. Asda began a train distribution service in 2001 and says each of its trains saves 26 return truck journeys per run. A rail route from Tilbury to Normanton has helped the retailer cut 500,000 road miles off its total each year.

Tesco says its adoption of rail transport has helped it save more than 12,000 tonnes of CO2 a year since 2006. This year Tesco opened a purpose-built import storage facility in Middlesbrough, close to important railway lines, which will take more than 12,000 lorry journeys off roads per year.

M&S’s Castle Donington distribution centre, which it is hoped will be operational in 2012, will be second in size only to its 1.1 million sq ft centre in Bradford, which opened last month. The centre will hold general merchandise goods including those for sale online.

The 2020 programme is designed to result in a better supply chain, including a consolidation of warehouses and improved operational execution. In its last financial year the retailer achieved £35m of savings through warehouse consolidation and efficiency projects.

M&S’s Bradford warehouse has already enabled the store group to cut furniture lead times from 28 to seven days.

M&S has set itself the objective of becoming “the world’s most sustainable retailer” by 2015 and Plan A has enabled it to make savings of £50m so far by cutting waste, energy use and packaging.