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Developing Scottish Railfreight with Julian Worth CMILT, Chair, CILT(UK) Rail Freight Forum, David Prescott FCILT, Scottish railway consultant & Dougie Adamson CMILT, Agilent Technology: Scottish Region Webinar: 14 July 2020

Julian Worth
Transport is the biggest generator of carbon, whose production we have a legal obligation to eliminate by 2050, and its decarbonisation will need an integrated approach, since only rail has a proven zero carbon capability. Other modes have potential with battery or hydrogen vehicles or even overhead power on the motorways which, though technically feasible, may be very difficult to deliver unless all lanes are electrified - and even then what would happen if an electric lorry had to swerve out of the way of an accident or a tailback?

With chilled and frozen options on offer, 45% of railfreight traffic in Britain is now consumer goods, a far cry from the memories of reliance on heavy industry. The Covid crisis has demonstrated the importance of rail, which is already viable at 100 miles for consumer goods and 50 miles for bulk freight, such cement from Dunbar to Uddingston. 45% of HGV tonne miles are on journeys over 100 miles and a further 12% are bulk materials travelling 50-100 miles, so that 57% of HGV tonne-miles is potentially suitable for transfer. Not all of this can realistically transfer but 30-35% looks to be feasible.

The key is to have one end of the journey connected to the rail network, and 50 million square feet of rail-connected warehousing is now under development in the Golden Triangle of Midland England, allowing use of trains to move products between National and Regional Distribution Centres(RDCs)More RDC clusters, such as Mossend/Grangemeouth, and manufacturing plants can be connected to rail. In Scotland, this has particular relevance in the forest products, whisky and water sectors, with Highland Spring showing the way forward.

With battery trucks potentially decarbonising road hauls up to c.100 miles, crucially including trips to/from intermodal terminals, the possibility emerges for a New Model to decarbonise freight transport provided we have:
• land use planning policies encouraging growth of terminals, strategically placed at modal transfer points with potential for development of the airspace above them.
• mainline capacity, with two extra freight paths per hour on all strategic rail routes, except the West Coast Main Line and Felixstowe-Nuneaton which need four, and the benefits of HS2 and East West Rail: evaluating the true value of freight paths to the British economy should see railfreight score over lightly-loaded off-peak regional passenger trains which as a result of Covid have now lost much of their ridership. The European Train Control System and grade-separation of junctions will also help increase capacity substantially.
• electrification of just 660 route-miles to achieve 90+% coverage of railfreight movements in a timescale which sees out the economic life of diesel Class 66s, with battery capability for local movement: and big battery locos for rural routes like the West Highland and Far North, where they could be recharged at crossing points, and for engineering works when the current has to be turned off.

But we need not wait for all this to take place, and should start now since even diesel-hauled trains produce 70% less carbon than HGVs.

David Prescott
Scotland retains a strategic network whose capacity has been freed up by the loss of traditional traffic like coal, and we are lucky in the leadership of Transport Scotland, which has set Network Rail a strategic objective to increase the amount of railfreight and continued funding through not only Freight Facilities Grants but also the Freight Fund for infrastructure, trials and other activity. The Scottish Government has embraced electrification, taking it as far north as Dunblane, so that 28% of the network is now wired representing 75% of passenger journeys.

Highland Spring is the UK market-leader in bottled water and offers new railfreight possibilities, with an improved solution now taking shape after a very long gestation characterised by a patient customer and by support from TS and JG Russells. Raiths Farm is a purpose-built location that is now well-served by the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, and Leith South while less exciting lies surprisingly close to Edinburgh city centre and could offer a good site for an urban logistics hub. Montrose is a strategic asset that looks ready for traffic and could have synergy with the station's need for a larger car-park as well as being close to a small but active port.

The Highland Main Line has proved a missed opportunity since the recent upgrade delivered only for the franchise-driven passenger requirement, and the collective failure to provide for freight has shown the need for a emerging holistic approach. The decaying condition of the Chalmerston branch, in an area abounding in open-cast spoil and forestry, is a reminder that assets not maintained can be lost before the time comes when they would be useful again - all that it would take is an annual devegetation trip to preserve the track from trees growing through it - and is reminiscent of how opportunities at Levenmouth and Rosyth were lost in a short-term move to save money.

Mossend represents an ultimate vision, with investment at PD Stirling's International Rail Freight Park now going providing very long container handling sidings and with space for warehousing for efficient transit of goods moved by the electrified West and East Coast Main Lines, with direct access to the M8 for onward delivery by electric truck or van. Seen from such a perspective, railfreight looks competitive and innovative, with all the major retailers on board.

Dougie Adamson
Many companies with high-tech, high value global supply-chains, moving electrical products from Far East manufacture to western markets, have hitherto got very used to reliance on the availability of low-cost high-speed movement in the holds of passenger planes that in the post-Covid world may be subject to new constraints - and there are also the possibilities of trade wars between the US and China and repercussions arising from the crackdown in Hong Kong. Seafreight has too long a journey-time, so maybe Covid rather than tariffs will provide the tipping-point for a switch to rail, using aggregators who fill trains on the three available routes. Or, given other uncertainties such as the Russian political situation, has the time come for more nearshoring of manufacturing, where much may depend on how the UK comes out of the Brexit transition and the role of rail may depend on its competitiveness with intra-EU couriers like Fedex-TNT and DHL?

There are few other opportunities akin to the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route for road improvements to aid railfreight since the emphasis now is on A9 and A96 dualling which would compete rather than connect. The whisky trial in 2013 demonstrated that it could be done but the rail geography was a long way round. The Highland Main Line at present has no capacity for more than its one freight train a day, and the loading gauge is not particularly generous: but that train does convey backloads of food and plasterboard, and the trial showed the potential for Walkers Shortbread. SL45 Lowliners are not allowed to run in Scotland at present, but there should be an opportunity in the post-Covid world to take stock of how the HML has developed. The rail-connected former power station at Cockenzie is in the wrong place for a Regional Distribution Centre, but could support rail-served manufacturing: as with other brownfield sites, it is vital that the connection should be maintained. Ultimately government must decide what sort of network it wants to see, and railfreight needs to win the hearts and minds of the small number of key decision-takers who shape the Scottish economy.

Notes by John Yellowlees


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