FTA is a member of the Scottish government’s Freight Logistics Advisory Group ScotFLAG, which advises on freight and logistics policy matters. One current work stream of the group is carbon reduction and modal shift. A key target of which is to introduce smaller road freight hauliers and shippers to the idea of using rail freight.

Against this background, a ScotFLAG seminar was facilitated by Transport Scotland last May. This was attended by members of the logistics sector, trade association representatives, members of Regional Transport Partnerships and Local Authorities, alongside Transport Scotland, FTA, Rail Freight Group and the Road Haulage Association. The aim of the seminar was twofold – the first was the identification of barriers faced by logistics companies to move goods by rail rather than road (this included small infrequent loads) and the second was discussing which enablers would allow modal shift.

Network Rail began the seminar with a presentation on its role in the movement of goods. It explained its flexibility about any potential service and that the imaginative use of equipment, for example line-side loading, can be a cost effective tool to enable the introduction of new services.

The presentation was followed by a short question and answer session. One point raised was that rail operating companies could be doing more to dispel the myths/negative perceptions which some hauliers have, for example that moving goods by rail is too expensive and difficult an undertaking to consider. It was also asked that as public timetables are published for passengers, a similar service could be made available for the movement of freight by train – a useful service for operators. During the session it was stated that freight terminals require committed volumes to enable them to be a success. The building of a new terminal, it was said, doesn’t automatically mean generation of new business – hence prior to work commencing, any potential terminal requires committed traffic.

The cost of moving goods by rail was discussed as being dependant upon a number of variables, including potential collection of goods from customers; terminal handling (at both ends); terminal storage of goods; rail haulage charge; potential onward delivery and equipment hire e.g. hgv etc.

Fitting with actual movement of goods

There were a number of challenges identified throughout the seminar. The fact that everything moved by rail can be moved by road, but not everything moved by road can be moved by rail was cited as one of the biggest modal shift drawbacks. Some industries, for example the whisky business, are keen on the movement of goods by rail but have many hurdles to overcome. A lack of equipment is seen as a barrier to the use of rail, for example bulk tanks for whisky from Elgin to the Central Belt. Getting the product onto rail was also tricky to get started, which ties in with the fact that rail has the need for a suitable terminal at the origin and destination, which wouldn’t always fit in with actual movements.

More traffic going north than going south was cited as a challenge for rail freight and the fact that the vast majority of freight movements were over a short distance, which are usually not suitable for rail haulage. According to attendees, rail operating companies were perceived by some as being difficult to deal with and the fact that rail was seen as being too slow in getting out quotes for work was another problem voiced.

Lower costs for the future

The opportunities for rail freight, however, were also discussed at the seminar. There was an acknowledgement that rail had improved over the past 10 years and that Scotland had not yet reached saturation point for the amount of freight that can be handled by its rail terminals. Network Rail was also putting in longer passing loops in England, with the possibility of the use of electric trains to take more traffic, resulting in lower costs for the future. Most goods moved on rail are also done so at night, relieving the traffic during the day.

On 18 March a follow-up seminar was due to take place in Aberdeen aimed at the North East Scotland – Scottish Central Belt corridor. A subsequent workshop will examine opportunities for Scottish Central Belt to/from England.

Overall to make the switch to rail freight work, someone needs to pull together the road and rail sides to make the transition easier for industry. In this digital age, road and rail hauliers need more information on the web when it comes to rail freight and we hope to lead the way with our Mode Shift Centre website (www.modeshiftcentre.org).

It is very important going forward that we overcome the suspicion by smaller road freight hauliers that they could lose their customers to rail freight hauliers/logistics service providers if they collaborate with them and make clear the overriding benefits of modal shift.