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"Prospect for Railfreight" by David Murray, Russell Transport - Meeting of 7th March 2006

David Murray has had a varied career in the rail industry, having previously been employed by DRS and EWS. He is currently rail contracts manager with Glasgow-based John G Russell (Transport) Ltd, one of the largest private companies in Scotland, which provides a wide range of services from road haulage to warehousing.

He started his presentation by providing some background information on the Russell Group, a family-owned company established in 1969. It currently employs 420 staff and operates 180 vehicles providing distribution services for some of Europe's leading companies in the retail, manufacturing, food & drink, and mineral sectors. It has established a growing market in the recyclates industry, particularly in the movement of biomass products. It currently utilises the Superfast ferry service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge to access markets in Belgium and France, as well as transporting goods via the Channel Tunnel. The group owns depots in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness, and shares depots elsewhere in the UK and consists of five companies: Carntyne, Russell International, Russell Packing, Russell Self Storage and Russell Road Rail. A recent acquisition is the former Norfrost business manufacturing freezers in Caithness which is now known as Ice-tech.

Focusing on the rail side of the business, the company operates two freight trains in each direction (Monday to Friday) between Mossend and Daventry in the Midlands. It is actively developing its rail freight sector with proposals to increase its container fleet, to increase the number of trains on the existing route, and to introduce train services between Mossend and Doncaster, between Mossend and Inverness, and between Grangemouth and Hillington. It is also currently in discussions regarding its proposals for a purpose-built rail freight terminal in Inverness.

Turning to the UK rail freight industry, the last 10 years has seen rail freight grow by approximately 50% (with a surface share of 12%), and in the last 7 years the industry has invested in over 7,000 wagons. But what of the future for rail freight? Although it is a very reliable form of transport which reduces exposure to restrictions on drivers' hours, it faces a number of challenges: road congestion to/from terminals; a skills shortage in the UK workforce; high fuel costs (compared to costs that are approximately 30% cheaper on the continent); a lack of capacity at destination ports; and regulatory restrictions.

So how can the industry grow? There must be an integrated approach to solutions with partnership working between stakeholders (Network Rail, FOCs, TOCs and customers). The UK's current rail gauge is restrictive and does not allow the piggyback system used elsewhere. Whilst the gauge enhancements between Mossend and Aberdeen/Elgin proposed by the North East Rail Freight Development Group are welcome, they only provide a short-term solution. A dedicated UK rail freight route feeding into Europe is required. Such a route has been mapped using under-utilised and disused lines in Scotland and England, and a customer base has been established. It is proposed that the route be developed in a staged manner, starting with the sections closest to the Channel Tunnel and moving northwards. When completed this dedicated route could provide a fast, reliable and efficient service from Scotland to markets in England and on the Continent.

Report by Marion Mackay.


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