What about freight?
Freight is enduring a severe dip in orders from which it has yet to recover. The decline in demand for coal has resulted in almost a 50% reduction in movements to, from and within Scotland since 2012.
Demand for rail freight was forecast to grow at an average of 2.9% per annum up to 2043. But that was in 2013 - when the word Brexit didn’t exist.
No one can conjure new business out of thin air, but there are ways to make freight a more attractive way of transporting bulk goods. HS2, besides cutting journey times, should free up capacity on key main lines south of Manchester and Leeds, which can benefit Scotland.
The Scottish Government has several ideas for developing freight. These include: Longer and heavier trains. 24x7 capability. W12 loading gauge. Electrification of freight routes. Strategic freight interchanges and terminals.
And improvements expected by 2019 include:
775-metre train capability and operational enhancements in the Mossend area.
Capacity improvements between Holytown and Slateford. Electrification of the Grangemouth branch. Inverness yard capacity and capability improvements.
Some rail freight firms complain that technical, regulatory and engineering challenges stop them chasing new business. However, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) sees potential growth through further demand from shippers for rail-hauled traffic on routes between central Scotland and deep sea ports. It says the number of containers moved by rail could increase by 58% (from 58,000 containers per year to 92,000).
Domestic growth of 100% (from 74,000 to 148,000 containers annually) is possible through increased traffic between the Midlands and central Scotland, from the North West and Yorkshire, and East Coast ports.
Rail is already consolidating its position as ‘default’ bulk carrier of crushed rock, sand/ gravels and cements from source to market, says RDG. Forestry and timber processing also generates £ 285 million annually for the Scottish economy. A shift to rail is forecast, but there’s also competition from road and sea.
Freight hopes to grow business by shifting all sorts of consumer goods - from automotive (new cars and semi-finished parts such as chassis) to hard liquor. Rail moves significant volumes of bottled whisky for export, and operators are exploring new opportunities in the food and drink sector.
The freight fund has helped improve access to the network and been a good thing, says RDG. Future schemes that could be supported include the West Coast Main Line ( WCML) to Grangemouth W12 gauge enhancement. A gauge upgrade on key alternative routes into Scotland, such as the Glasgow and South Western Line (via Dumfries), would allow trains to be diverted during any disruption.