Railfreight Scotland Policy Consultation
"I know some people who think this is not the time to be investing in infrastructure. But, I believe it is essential to do so, and we will be investing £20bn in our rail infrastructure in the next few years."
Gordon Brown 14 December 2009.
"A robust evidence base" to inform decisions (Chapter 9) has an important and laudable role to play, but cannot be the sole philosophy for future policy. The UK and Scottish Governments have shown a determination to adopt policies to counteract pollution-induced climate change. Their carbon reduction targets demand really major changes in many daily activities, not least in transport use to achieve considerable modal shift.
FoFNL agrees with Government desires to ensure significant freight tonnages are transferred from road to rail and water-based carriers. FoFNL believes that, in the shorter term, Government will need to be proactively directing freight on to rail as the present incentives, though very welcome, have been shown to be insufficient to achieve major modal shift.
Furthermore, FoFNL is most concerned that whenever the major switch to rail occurs, because of peak oil, steep oil price increases or whatever is the catalyst, it will happen very suddenly. It is important that the rail industry is able to cope with sufficient wagons and that the three single track lines in the Highlands radiating in and out of Inverness have been sufficiently increased in line capacity.
This major switch may happen in the short or medium term and it is important the infrastructure is prepared. Our impression is that the consultation document must show more of the enlightened mindset which produced the Climate Change (Scotland) Act. Rail wagons take a while to build and new loops or double track sections take even longer. We must start planning for this now.
On a double track railway with, say, five minute headways it is possible to add extra trains up to a total of about ten per hour each way relatively easily. On an average stretch of Highland single track with loops every eight miles it is only realistic to schedule about five trains in the hour, two one way and three in the opposite direction. Steep gradients and low line speeds might prevent even this number. It is impossible to fit in more trains until extra loops or double track has been constructed.
The single track lines from Inverness to Perth and Aberdeen are already working to capacity for much of the day, as is the Inverness to Muir of Ord section at peak times. We must have a series of action plans to increase capacity for freight as well as passenger train needs. Some priority improvements are planned for the Perth and Aberdeen lines, but not until 2016 for the latter. We must avoid planning too little, too late. The likely major and sudden expansion of rail freight requires forward planning of major infrastructure schemes that are ready to be implemented at very short notice, or better still, have already been implemented in anticipation of need. This requires radical thinking on a large scale.
1) Do you agree with the need for encouraging increased modal shift to rail for freight?
2) Have we accurately captured the benefits of freight movement by rail?
3) Have we identified all of the obstacles to the expansion of rail freight movement?
Additional administrative issues would include the EU's current discussion on permitting much larger "mega trucks" and "road trains." Such an idea would be inappropriate for UK roads and would once again have a further deleterious effect on rail freight.
4) Have we identified all of the obstacles to modal shift to rail?
Logistically, how do you abstract part of a flow from a national agreement?
For example, there may be a compelling safety case for gas being carried by rail, sea or pipeline. It could be argued that, given the notorious Cambusavie Bends and particularly the Berriedale Braes on the A9 to Caithness, this flow would be safer going by rail rather than by road.
5) Which of the barriers, if overcome, would be conducive to rail freight expansion?
1) Loading gauge improvements would allow larger containers to be used.
2) Increasing the size and number of rail freight terminals with good road access.
3) Line capacity improvements: removing congestion points, providing more passing loops, and ensuring diversionary routes are more generally available.
4) Remove VAT on fuel for rail freight trains.
5) Harmonise structures on legislation and safety between road and rail.
6) Are there any types of traffic...
However, the traffic flows which even now could be expanded, recaptured for or migrated to rail in the Highlands and Islands include:
Timber and biomass (including innovative lineside loading)
Parcels (especially trunking to Inverness and Caithness)
Waste to landfill (hopefully a reducing traffic but much safer than by road)
Fish feed supplies
Engineering components eg for oilfield servicing/production
7) Do you consider that intervention is required, in addition to the current incentive schemes, to encourage modal shift? Please give examples of interventions that may contribute to the desired outcomes.
1) A national programme of loading gauge enhancement.
[Include Elgin to Inverness and Invergordon and also Inverness to Perth to give an alternative diversionary route.]
2) Open access to rail freight terminals. A scheme similar to that imposed by Ofcom where BT was made to permit usage of its networks by other providers. [We understand there have been problems of access to terminals at Georgemas and Inverness.]
3) Other appropriate measures to encourage and co-ordinate FOCs in seeking to obtain and retain business which is part of the Government's programme to reduce emissions from transport by hugely significant amounts. Measures to encourage consignees to choose railfreight as their contribution to the national effort.
8) Are our proposals for action suitably allocated to the appropriate sector or organisation?
9) Are you, or your organisation, ready to play your part in achieving these desired outcomes?
10) Do you consider anything further can be done to encourage a modal shift to freight for rail? By whom?
The industry and the Government have made some headway over the past ten years but it pales into insignificance compared to the scale of modal shift needed to achieve the carbon reduction targets.
There really has to be a strong driver for this. It is made more difficult by the ownership of the FOCs being in private hands and some of these being based abroad. The task is not impossible if all players are committed to Government policies and targets on climate change. Consider a czar or Government facilitator?
Government commitment to climate change has gone way beyond the financing available for the present structures of HLOS and "robust evidence-based" advances, welcome those these are. Something much more radical is needed if we are to reduce congestion and emissions by meaningful amounts.
If we can achieve such an attitude, we can yet see your highly desirable intended outcome of
"A culture where people and business see the benefits to the environment, communities and Scotland's economy, of modal shift to rail freight." (Chapter 9).
We must be properly prepared to achieve this without delay against the twin threats of climate change and of the peak oil scenario.
Our best wishes to all players for an appropriate transformation of modal shares for freight transport in Scotland, the UK and Europe.