What about freight?

Rail (UK) - - Feature Operations -

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.

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