Why we must pro­tect for­mer rail­way routes

David Spaven on max­imis­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to move from truck to train

The Scotsman - - Friends Of The Scotsman / Transport -

Rail’s great strength is its abil­ity to move large quan­ti­ties of freight safely, swiftly and sus­tain­ably: the end prod­uct of low-fric­tion, steel-wheel-on-steel-rail tech­nol­ogy, op­er­at­ing over a seg­re­gated route net­work. But that seg­re­ga­tion in­evitably means that rail is less ubiq­ui­tous than its road haulage com­peti­tor, with pub­lic roads serv­ing vir­tu­ally ev­ery site across Scot­land which gen­er­ates freight traf­fic.

In con­trast, at present, only a hand­ful of min­ing/man­u­fac­tur­ing/pro­cess­ing sites in Scot­land are di­rectly rail-con­nected – good ex­am­ples be­ing open-cast coal mines, Hun­ter­ston port, the ce­ment works at Dun­bar, the Dalzell steel plant, the oil re­fin­ery at Grange­mouth and the Fort Wil­liam alu­minium smelter. But coal in­dus­try – which tra­di­tion­ally supplied the key freight traf­fic on the rail­ways – is in sub­stan­tial de­cline, and the rail in­dus­try ur­gently needs to find new busi­ness.

In prac­tice, much of the traf­fic po­ten­tial to help fill the gap left by coal will lie in the do­mes­tic in­ter­modal sec­tor, where con­tain­ers are trunked by rail over the long haul, but typ­i­cally need col­lec­tion and de­liv­ery by road.

How­ever, elim­i­nat­ing a lorry leg at the start or end of the rail tran­sit can help to trans­form rail eco­nomics and win more traf­fic back from long-dis­tance road haulage. Pro­tect­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of gain­ing or re­gain­ing di­rect rail ac­cess to ma­jor in­dus­trial sites should there­fore be at the heart of a long-term strat­egy for rail.

The Scot­tish Govern­ment’s rail freight strat­egy, De­liv­er­ing the Goods, pub­lished in 2016, ac­knowl­edged the scope for con­sid­er­ing how “[Lo­cal] de­vel­op­ment plans [LDPS] could be fur­ther im­proved to iden­tify key op­por­tu­ni­ties and op­ti­mise in­vest­ment po­ten­tial in rail freight.” In prac­tice, LDPS are much in­flu­enced by the Scot­tish Govern­ment’s guid­ance in its na­tional plan­ning poli­cies: these fea­tur­ing strongly in both the ini­tial cre­ation of the LDPS and in any sub­se­quent plan­ning ap­peals.

Back in the 1990s, guid­ance on rail freight was strong and spe­cific, re­quir­ing plan­ning au­thor­i­ties to iden­tify sites ad­ja­cent to ex­ist­ing op­er­a­tional or dis­used in­fra­struc­ture which were ca­pa­ble of be­ing de­vel­oped for uses re­quir­ing rail or wa­ter­borne freight ac­cess, and to safe­guard these, through the LDPS, for man­u­fac­tur­ing, pro­cess­ing or trans­ship­ment de­vel­op­ments with po­ten­tial to use rail or wa­ter freight.

To­day, how­ever, the guid­ance is weaker and does not men­tion rail freight specif­i­cally, stat­ing lit­tle more than: “Dis­used rail­way lines with a rea­son­able prospect of be­ing reused as rail, tram, bus rapid tran­sit or ac­tive travel routes should be safe­guarded in de­vel­op­ment plans.”

Within the rail­way es­tate, the rail in­dus­try can and does take its own steps to pro­tect land from in­ap­pro­pri­ate de­vel­op­ment. Since pri­vati­sa­tion, there has been a des­ig­nated list of Strate­gic Freight Sites (sites where there are no cur­rent rail freight ac­tiv­i­ties but which are deemed to have freight po­ten­tial) which ben­e­fit from strate­gic pro­tec­tion. This list, which is cur­rently be­ing up­dated by Net­the

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