The first of the three press pieces reproduced here is from the Sunday Herald editorial on 24 September 2017
The Scottish Government's Programme for Government earlier this month promised to "electrify" the A9 between Perth and Inverness for road vehicles. The plan was widely welcomed.
But there were no similar promises for the Highland main line. It is single track for much of its length, and the passing places are only long enough for freight trains of 300 metres.
Elsewhere in the country, freight trains are 500 or more metres long on much of the rest of the network. That clearly inhibits the potential for rail freight, as do slow journey times.
Ministers are aware of these problems and say they want to significantly boost rail freight by 7.5 per cent by 2024. They know that rail freight could make an important contribution to slowing climate change, as it produces 76 per cent less carbon pollution than road haulage.
A few companies have shown that it can be done. Tesco, in partnership with Eddie Stobart, transports 20 boxes of supplies six days a week by rail to Inverness.
All the more puzzling, then, that ministers seem to have a blind spot when it comes to improving the A9. As we report today, an expert study they commissioned concluded that the £3 billion plan to dual 80 miles of single carriageway between Perth and Inverness would "dampen" prospects for shifting freight from road to rail.
This really is no more than common sense. But instead of looking into how to rectify the imbalance, and reviewing road versus rail spending, they simply decided not to publish the study.
This is not good enough. Ministers often say the right things about increasing rail freight, but little actually happens on the ground. It's time they got on track.
The second piece, by FoFNL member David Spaven, Scotland Representative of the Rail Freight Group, was published by The Scotsman on 19 October 2017
Big headlines were generated last month by news of Scottish Government plans to make the A9 Scotland's first 'fully electric-enabled' highway. However, while the use of electric vehicles in and around cities is a sensible and achievable target, details are sketchy as to how electric technology can be applied to the long journeys travelled by cars and vans along the A9 and beyond. And the prospect of seeing 44-tonne electric lorries wafting silently over Druimuachdar Summit is distant indeed.
In contrast, the much neglected parallel railway - the Highland Main Line from Perth to Inverness - is crying out for investment to allow it to play a much bigger role in helping the Scottish Government to achieve ambitious low-carbon targets. Electrification of the railway should be a core objective, as part of a rolling programme across Scotland, so that the excellent (but 40-year old) High Speed Trains about to be introduced on express routes can be replaced in ten years' time by state-of-the-art electric trains.
So what can be done in the short to medium term to help rail freight compete more effectively against trucks which generate three to four times as much CO2 for every load moved? Unlike the A9 - where dualling is steadily progressing, and road hauliers now enjoy Central Belt to Inverness transits half an hour faster as a result of raising the HGV speed limit from 40 to 50mph - the railway has suffered from disinvestment over the last 40 years. Two thirds of the 118-mile line is single track, and key crossing loops were taken out in 1980s' rationalisation schemes.
However, in 2008, the Scottish Government's 'Strategic Transport Projects Review' identified upgrading the Highland Main Line as a national priority. Investment of between £200m and £400m was envisaged - extending double track, building more crossing loops and improving signalling - yet almost 10 years later, nothing has been delivered on the ground. Meanwhile, although the A9 was completely rebuilt in the 1970s and 80s, the first tranches of a further £3 billion investment in the road have already been spent.
A key way to achieve more efficient freight operations - the revised, vague objective set out for the railway by Government in 20l2 - is to provide the infrastructure to allow rail hauliers to operate the longest possible trains. The modern Class 66 locomotives which haul the daily Stobart / Tesco container train from Central Scotland to Inverness have enough power to pull a train of 28 containers - the equivalent of 28 lorries - but the lack of long crossing loops restricts the operation to just 20 containers. So rail is 30% less efficient than it should be, and as A9 dualling progresses, the danger is that instead of freight traffic switching from road to rail - the Scottish Government's objective - the modal switch will be in the opposite direction, increasing carbon emissions!
The current drastically scaled-back plans for the Highland Main Line envisage an extended crossing loop at Aviemore - in principal a very good idea - but likely to deliver little benefit for rail freight in practice, as this loop will be used for most of the day to 'cross' an enhanced frequency of passenger trains. Capacity for long freight trains will only be available in the night - which won't necessarily suit customers, and when rail engineers need access to the single track for maintenance.
In its defence, the Scottish Government is making noises about further improvements in a 'next phase' of rail upgrading after 2019 - but how long can the freight railway afford to wait, without seeing serious A9-inflicted damage to its existing core business?
There are also enormous tranches of potential new rail business which could be realised by a seriously upgraded Highland Main Line. Some 50,000 laden whisky lorries travel the A9 every year, and a share of this, together with other Speyside food and drink products, could provide the base load for a new train from Elgin and/or Keith to the Central Belt - cutting carbon and road accidents. While rail has had much success in attracting supermarket traffic from the roads over the last two decades - by offering a high-quality, timetabled service - all the traffic carried is 'ambient', ie not temperature-controlled. The big prize for rail is to penetrate the chilled and frozen food markets, but this will require infrastructure investment to allow wider refrigerated containers to pass through 'gauge-constrained' Victorian tunnels and overbridges. Together with timber and wood products, and inbound grain, malt and empty casks for the whisky industry, there is scope to generate enough rail traffic to fill many more freight trains than the current two daily - and in so doing,to take hundreds of heavy lorries off the A9 every day. But to achieve that highly desirable objective we need a 'fully enabled' railway - fit for the 21st century.
The final item, by Donna MacAllister, appeared in the Inverness Courier on 31 October 2017, and is particularly relevant to the Far North Line.
Ambitious plans to transport timber from Scottish forests to timber processors - such as Norbord - by rail instead of road will struggle to get off the ground unless rural rail freight infrastructure is improved and Scottish Government subsidies help meet the significant extra costs, an industry expert has said.
Roland Stiven of the Timber Transport Forum said government grants were available to help forest owners and timber companies shift their goods onto rail, but an aging railway line lacking in freight yards, modern sidings and loading areas made it unviable for an individual company to make the pioneering greener move from road to rail.
He said trying to find a way to make the move to rail possible was an "uphill battle".
And a long-held goal to transport timber from the Flow Country in north Sutherland to Inverness via rail instead of road had stalled because of the high costs involved.
It comes as Norbord nears completion of a multimillion-pound extension to double production at its Dalcross site without any formal plans to install a rail access point to the plant to bring roundwood timber in by rail. Lorries are used instead.
Mr Stiven said: "Substantial public infrastructure investment is needed.
"If we leave it to the market the businesses are going to say it does not make economic sense for them to lead it - if there's no money in it." He added: "Timber processors are not going to spend £5 more per tonne to get their timber out of the forests plus a lot of up front costs to stick it on a train unless they believe that they can somehow make it viable."
Norbord invested up to £95 million into its expansion scheme, which was topped up by a grant of £11.5 million from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
The Canadian company made a pledge several years ago to "periodically review" plans to install a rail access point to the plant to ease traffic congestion on the A96 and lower its carbon footprint.
However, a spokesman said yesterday there were "no formal plans" to do so.
He said: "The extension is just completing at the moment. There are no formal plans. We are just looking at it periodically."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government agency, Transport Scotland, said rail freight's contribution to sustainable economic growth was recognised for offering "a safer, greener, more efficient" way of transporting products and materials.
She said £9.7 million had been invested in 10 freight handling facilities across Scotland since 2007, removing more than 100 million lorry miles from roads.
In addition, a £30 million Scottish Strategic Rail Freight Investment Fund is helping to "better unlock opportunities for rail freight across the country".
And the actions contained within a key 2016 document called 'Delivering the Goods, Scotland's Rail Freight Strategy', were taken forward with industry partners.
There has also been a £5 billion investment in Scotland's railways up to 2019 and ministers have set down targets for Network Rail to grow new rail freight business. The strategy looks to improve rail freight by setting down "challenging but achievable performance targets" and calls on Network Rail to increase the average speed of freight trains by 10 per cent.