In 2017's High Level Output Specification [HLOS] Transport Scotland set out its requirement for freight growth in Scotland:
Under this plan the Scottish Ministers would require all reasonable steps to be taken to facilitate growth of 7.5% in rail freight traffic carried on the Scotland route, of which, at least 7.5% will represent a growth in new business (i.e. new traffic flows, not previously moving by rail). Both targets should be achieved by the end of CP6 and be measured in net thousand gross tonne miles, relative to the baseline at March 2019.
The Scottish rail industry is well aware of the need to move quickly to meet these targets. We hope that Scottish politicians are ready to assist where possible, as is already being done in Germany. There follows a small selection of articles and comments.
A German state aid programme designed to promote a shift of freight from road to rail has been given the go-ahead by the European Commission.
A total of €350m is being made available in 2018-23 to cover up to 45% of the track access charges paid by freight operators, who are required to pass on the benefits by lowering the prices they charge to freight shippers.
"Promoting the shift of freight transport from road to rail is one of many measures that Europe needs to take to help reduce our environmental footprint", said Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy, on December 10. "The German aid scheme does exactly that; it supports this shift, ensures benefits are passed to customers and will contribute to meeting the EU's environmental and transport objectives, without unduly distorting competition."
The Scottish freight community has today launched a joint strategy to grow the amount of freight on the rails, as part of plans to meet a target of 7.5% growth set by the Scottish Government last year.
Network Rail, Freight Operating Companies, freight users, industry bodies and hauliers came together to build the ambitious plan, which sets out what is required to support rail freight growth as well as looking at improving the average speed a freight train can travel at and increasing reliability, meaning that more trains reach their destination on time.
The plan sets out four actions for growth, aligned to workstreams, covering four areas that the rail freight industry believes we collectively need to improve upon:
Moving goods by rail boosts productivity and brings in around £200m in benefits to Scotland's economy. There are over 600 freight trains running on Great Britain's network every single day, with around 50 of these trains running in Scotland delivering goods 24 hours of the day. Over 4 million tonnes of product was transported by rail in the last 12 months.
Rail freight also boasts significant environmental benefits and as part of this plan the rail freight industry commits to work in partnership to transfer at least 1,700 lorry movements a year from Scotland's road network to rail over the next five years. Each tonne of freight transported by rail reduces carbon emissions by 7 percent compared to road and each freight train removes between 25 and 62 HGVs from Scottish roads.
Alex Hynes, ScotRail Alliance managing director, said: "We are working closely with our rail freight operators to grow freight traffic on Scotland's railway over the next five years.
"There are individual businesses and whole industry sectors which could benefit hugely from making rail freight part of their logistics mix and we will be working hard to encourage them onto our network.
"We are also committed to making rail freight as fast and reliable as it can be and are investing in our infrastructure to make switching from road to rail as easy as possible for customers."
Paul McMahon, managing director of Freight and National Passenger Operators at Network Rail, said: "Our freight customers are a vital part of Scotland's railways and the Scottish economy. Scottish growth also needs to be considered as part of our GB-wide network as this will make sure that the required capacity and capability exists both north and south of the border.
"Network Rail champions and supports freight. We, and the rail freight industry, welcome the growth target and we will continue to work together in delivering the uplift."
Ken Russell, managing director Russell Group, said: "Russell Group has been pioneering the use of rail freight for over 40 years, promoting its numerous economic and environmental benefits. The company continues to invest in rail freight, working in partnership with the industry to support growth and boost productivity. It is particularly pleasing to see Transport Scotland placing a requirement on Network Rail to grow rail freight over the next control period and that Network Rail has grasped this with industry mapping out a growth programme."
Andrew Malcolm, chief executive officer WH Malcolm, said: "WH Malcolm have been delivering intermodal rail to the logistics sector since 2001. We are pleased to see this commitment to rail freight from Transport Scotland, Network Rail and the wider industry. Only by working together, across government, industry and transport modes will we achieve the greatest benefits."
Chris Swan, head of rail at Tarmac, said: "As one of the UK's largest private sector users of rail freight it's great to see its value as an economic enabler recognised by this industry-led growth plan for Scotland. We believe that building capacity in the rail network is vital to help the effective delivery of infrastructure ambitions and look forward to working together to achieve the positive growth targets in place."
Debbie Francis, managing director of Direct Rail Services, said: "DRS fully support Network Rail's industry growth plan in Scotland. Being one of the main intermodal freight operators north of the border it is key that Network Rail and industry partners understand the needs of freight customers. Freight services offered in Scotland need to meet delivery requirements and we hope that by working in partnership we can all ensure freight and its customers has a voice equal to train operating companies."
For further information please visit: www.networkrail.co.uk/freight-growth
Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy wrote in his diary in the Inverness Courier, 2 April 2019:
Monday, March 25: I chaired the rail freight summit which was attended by railway representatives and freight companies at Scotland House, London. One option that was discussed was for more timber transport to go on railways between Inverness and Aberdeen. There was a positive view from leading hauliers who see that the time is now to shift from road to rail - provided that practical, viable schemes can be delivered. There was an agreement to form a working group to look at what would take a huge number of lorries off our road network.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson is to look at setting up a task force to encourage the transportation of whisky distilled in the north and north-east by rail. Mr Matheson said he would consider the proposal for a working group focusing in on moving food and drink by freight rail when it was suggested by north-east MSP Mike Rumbles at Holyrood.
The Lib Dem MSP said 100% of the 1.5 million tonnes of whisky transported from north and north-east to the Central Belt currently goes by road. Mr Rumbles said a move away from heavy lorries would ease damage to roads and reduce carbon emissions.
In parliament, Mr Matheson said Mr Rumbles's plan was "very reasonable" and merited "further consideration".
Mr Rumbles said: "Whisky is a major industry in Scotland. Rail can help ensure a sustainable future for the industry.
"By switching whisky freight to rail, carbon emissions would reduce, traffic would reduce and the damage to our roads would also be reduced.
"I am pleased that the Cabinet Secretary has agreed to consider my suggestion. I shall continue to press the Scottish Government to ensure they stay on track for rail freight."
The economics of serving individual malt distilleries directly by rail were creaking by the early 1960s - as per Beeching's analysis of much wagonload traffic - and this was reflected by closure of most of the malt distillery private sidings by the end of the decade. The classic example was the closure of the Speyside line in 1968, with rail traffic then concentrated on modern railheads at Elgin, Dufftown and Keith. Of course, the road competition got progressively tougher until even these railheads had disappeared by 1992.
The seven grain distilleries in Scotland, all except Invergordon being in the Central Belt, operate on a much larger scale. Cameron Bridge has the capacity for c.140m litres p.a., compared to c.10m litres p.a. at the largest malt distilleries (Roseisle and Glenfiddich), so their private sidings lasted longer than those of the malt distilleries. But now all bulk spirit within Scotland is transported by road, with each road tanker carrying around 30,000 litres - a quick calculation showing that even Glenfiddich and Roseisle generate the equivalent of less than a couple of lorries a day.
The only realistic potential for direct rail access to distilleries on the FNL is Invergordon. At 40m litres p.a., it generates up to around 25 lorry loads a week, so perhaps enough for a part-train a couple of times a week feeding into existing or proposed trains at Inverness (the railhead for smaller distilleries along the FNL), Elgin and Keith. But road haulage has the advantage of feeding in regular daily volumes, whereas rail volumes would be more peaked. And of course capital investment would be required to reinstate the direct rail connection.
None of this is easy! It needs a strategy with buy-in from all stakeholders, but spreading the risk and getting commitment requires the Scottish Government to provide underpinning, e.g. by pump-priming the first year of operation of a regular food & drink train to the Central Belt.
The redoubling and resignalling of the line between Aberdeen and Inverurie should be completed by this autumn facilitated by another three month closure affecting this section. Details of this are given in Derek Glasgow's article on p12. We look forward to this brand new double track railway for the first 16 miles of the 108 mile route to Inverness. New stations at Kintore and Inverness Airport are also planned.
Next we should look forward to some redoubling at the western end between Dalcross and Inverness during CP6 to increase the reliability of services together with further new capacity in the middle between Keith and Elgin to break up the long 18 mile single line between those stations.
On 26 March, the Transport Minister announced certain works to progress during Control Period 6: 2019-2024 including "new phases of the Aberdeen to Inverness improvements". More specifically these included Aberdeen to Inverness Improvement Project Phases One and Two - freight capacity at the west end of the line." Hopefully this means a siding of some kind for the Norbord wood factory some 5 miles east of Inverness which would allow the direct receipt of timber by rail from lineside loading at Kinbrace on the FNL.
The "Branchliner" paper to the HITRANS board meeting in Inverness on 8 February reported that Government Minister, Fergus Ewing, had sanctioned a meeting in London on 25 March to discuss opportunities for transporting Scottish timber by rail with all the Freight Operating Companies. HITRANS's role is to promote the business opportunities for this from Altnabreac, Kinbrace, Georgemas, Aberdeenshire, Keith, and the West Highlands.
Subsequent to that meeting, Mike Rumbles (List MSP for North East Scotland) asked the Transport Minister in the Scottish Parliament on 4 April to establish a working group to promote the transport of food and drink by rail. Whisky and its associated traffic would be a major part of that. The Minister agreed to consider this.
It could be that "the west end of the line" freight capacity enhancements mentioned above will extend geographically to Elgin and Keith to facilitate this. It is important to have freight path capacity improved along the whole of the line. Attracting freight traffic to rail also requires a diversionary route in case of line blockages. Although it is a very long way round we should remember that the Inverness to Aberdeen line is crucial for this at times when either the Highland Main Line or the line south from Aberdeen are inadvertently blocked.
It was reported to the HITRANS board meeting on 8 February that Network Rail has taken charge of the HITRANS proposals to automate request stop alerts to drivers as part of the Far North Line Review. It is now proposed to use the £230k allocated to HITRANS for this to develop a different scheme.
The new idea is to pump-prime the creation of a new Token Exchange Point on the Kyle line near Stromeferry. This will increase the capacity of the line which is constrained by a long 42 minute section between Strathcarron and Kyle - perhaps the longest single track section (journey-time wise) in the UK. This will enable trains to leave Strathcarron while shunting is taking place at Kyle. It allows trains to follow each other into Kyle at 25 min intervals rather than 42 min, provides greater access to the track for maintenance, and allows for greater flexibility during periods of rockfall maintenance.
The cost is not yet established, but will involve a new Uninterruptible Power Supply, a radio mast and Train Protection Warning System equipment on the ground; and software changes within the RETB signalling system.
One benefit shared with the whole system north of Inverness would be to reduce the length of delays which can occur due to late running as many Kyle trains have to cross with Far North trains at either, or both, Dingwall and Muir of Ord. Making all the single track sections on the Kyle line roughly equal in running time at around 25 minutes considerably improves operating flexibility. The idea is to be applauded.