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"Gauging the scope for a freight shift to rail" by David Spaven, Scottish Representative - Rail Freight Group: Edinburgh meeting of 18 November 2014

A record attendance heard David Spaven speak on "Gauging the scope for a freight shift to rail". David started his presentation by looking at the scope of the Rail Freight Group.

The Rail Freight Group has over a hundred members and these include users and suppliers of rail freight in the UK. Members include major household names in retail as well as leading shipping, transport and distribution companies. Network Rail is also a member as are the five main rail haulage companies, i.e. Colas Rail DB Schenker Direct Rail Services. Freightliner and GB Railfreight.

In Scotland members include the Aberdeen Harbour Board, Associated British Ports (Ayr), Ineos Oil at Grangemouth, Lafarge Cement with depots around the country, and the The Malcolm Group with its rail terminals at Grangemouth and Elderslie amongst many others.

David then looked at the amount of rail freight in the UK as a whole and then looked at rail freight in Scotland in more detail. He pointed out that in Scotland some 8 million tonnes of freight is moved by rail each year and compared this with the amount of freight moved by other modes of transport. Rail accounts for some 7% of freight moved compared with 37% by road and 39% by shipping. He highlighted that 12% of Scottish freight train miles are by electric traction.

The markets for rail freight in Scotland include coal, both open cast mining and imports, much of the coal being imported arrives at Hunterston and is transported by rail to power stations. Other bulk freight includes Grangemouth for oil, Dunbar for cement and inter-modal transport with terminals at Coatbridge, Mossend and Grangemouth and the European Inter-modal facility at Mossend Eurocentral.

David then looked at the economics of rail freight which has advantages of having a segregated, signalled right of way and the advantages of the lower rolling resistance of the steel wheel on a steel rail. For long distances and large volumes, rail offers distinct advantages and is timetabled and efficient with 98% of supermarket containers being on time. Rail freight is fuel efficient and less exposed to the volatility of fuel prices. Additionally there are grants from the Scottish Government for rail freight and one train can carry up to 72 TEU of containers. Bulk payloads can by of up to 1,500 tonnes.

Moving freight by rail cuts road congestion and reduces wear on roads caused by heavy goods vehicles. In terms of energy efficiency rail uses approximately one third of the road equivalent energy and additionally there is a benefit in lower CO2 emissions. Fuel accounts for approximately 25% of the total rail cost, but some 40% of the total road cost. Rail freight benefits from electrification of railways.

David then contrasted rail freight with road freight, pointing out that road freight is highly flexible and "can go anywhere" and that every location has road access. The network can operate 24 hours a day over seven days and has short life assets with the adoption of new technology. However road freight is subject to oil price vulnerability and there are increasing business concerns about the environmental impact.

Looking at sea transport this has the advantage of being able to move big volumes with low unit costs and additionally there is no route infrastructure to maintain. Container shipping includes feeder container ships to both Grangemouth and Greenock. In addition trailers and containers are transported between Rosyth and Zeebrugge. There is also the Timberlink service from Kintyre and sawn timber from Corpach. However, sea transport is slower than rail and is subject to weather conditions. Another problem is port congestion, for example at Rotterdam.

Rail competitivity depends on the underlying economics of specific flows and includes such factors as the quality of service, especially reliability, the availability of route and terminal infrastructure. Fair terms of competition are also important including government strategic planning, regulation, taxation, investment and grant aid. Looking at the infrastructure, there are constraints due to route capacity.

Route capacity is constrained by bottlenecks and the availability of loops and sidings. There is also a need for longer and heavier trains and the market is looking for 6 and 7 day operation. Routes can be constrained by the loading gauge and require well located terminals with both rail and road access as well as sufficiently long sidings.

There are a number of Scottish issues impacting on rail freight including the National Planning Framework 3 which has seen an imbalance of treatment of sea and rail by the Scottish Government. The A9 and Highland Main Line shows the lack of a level playing field with ongoing investment in the road. Other issues include the EU Sulphur Emissions Control Area and the loading gauge clearance for containers as well as the Inter-City Express campaign.

Looking at the EU Sulphur Emissions Control Area, from 1st January 2015 this imposes a maximum of 0.1% sulphur in shipping emissions and to achieve this will require ship owners to either continue with heavy fuel oil but fit exhaust scrubbers, switch to low-sulphur marine gas oil or to introduce new liquid natural gas vessels. It is estimated that these measures will lead to an increase of around 15% - 20% in shipping costs from Scotland. Rail has potential for deep sea, domestic bulk and the European market. The biggest "new" market is Europe, for example Mossend to Paris, but a "pump priming" grant would be required. An example of this is the Rosyth - Zeebrugge service that has just been awarded another £156,000.

Turning to the loading gauge, David noted that lorries can go anywhere and do anything and the railway network dates from Victorian times with its legacy of tight clearances for over bridges and in tunnels. This leads to problems as the trend is for containerisation to increase from 8'6" to 9'6" in height. The Scottish rail network has a patchwork of different clearances and one solution is the use of low deck wagons. However, following an accident in 2013 these are now barred on secondary routes. Modifications are required but who will pay for these?

The Intercity Express initiative offers to create a "fit for purpose" rail network to the north and will both dual and electrify the Highland Main Line. It will also see electrification to Aberdeen and eliminate single track with more double track between Aberdeen and Inverness. There will also be a new direct Edinburgh - Perth passenger route.

In the south of Scotland there are a number of issued that require to be addressed including electrification to Grangemouth and improving the Leven branch for both freight and passenger. Millerhill waste terminal will also also be developed and Bathgate offers an opportunity for inter-modal freight.

In summing up David highlighted that rail freight offers market resilience and ticks the policy boxes but its full potential is not being realised. He posed the questions of whether the industry should "bang its drum more" or show more innovation and asked if the Government would play its part.

Click here to download a copy of the presentation (PDF format) (PDF format (1.9Mb)

Summary by John Fender.

 

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