Event report: Annual Scottish Conference 2024

The RFG’s Annual Scottish Conference was held on 6 March 2024 at Leapark Hotel, 130 Bo’ness Road, Grangemouth, FK3 9BX. The event is always a high spot of our event calendar, and this year was no exception.  Scotland is incredibly important for rail freight, with huge potential for growth so the conference is a great opportunity to get together and discuss the key challenges and developments.

Our event this year was held at the Leapark Hotel in Grangemouth, close to the major port which was the venue for our afternoon tour.  The hotel staff looked after us well, and we had a delicious networking dinner on the previous evening.

We were delighted that Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Scottish Government made the keynote address.  She described her role in promoting transport at the heart of government, and that she saw rail freight and ports as a key part of this.  Government recognises the need for certainty and stability in policy to support businesses and deliver key objectives such as decarbonisation, and highlighted the investments that are being made to improve the railway.  This includes ongoing support for rail freight through the freight growth target and policy objectives.

Alex Hynes, Managing Director, Scotland’s Railway, gave an update on their work and plans for delivering a better railway for freight through CP7.   He outlined the challenges of climate change on the infrastructure, and the work they are leading to better understand and manage the risks caused by excess rainfall and heat.   Alex also outlined the activities which are being taken to support freight and showed a video of the new terminal for Highland Spring.

Ross McKissock, Director of Unitised, Forth Ports Grangemouth presented on recent developments at the port which has seen significant change over recent years to focus more on its logistics offering.  Ross highlighted the key exports that go through the port across the globe, and the potential for rail freight to support these flows. Andrew Sumner, Rail Director, WH Malcolm then described their involvement with rail freight, and the potential for moving more by rail into Grangemouth.

 David Gordon, Principal Programme Sponsor, TRILINK (West Coast Upgrade Programme) spoke about the work he is leading to manage the very significant need for renewals on the northern part of the WCML.  He described his approach to intelligent renewals, moving away from a ‘like for like’ approach to one which better meets the current needs of users.  He also spoke about his work to ensure renewals programmes are aligned to get most work done across disciplines.

 After the coffee break, Martin Bignell, Scotland and North of England Representative, RFG gave an update on the work that RFG had led over the last year to support members and promote rail freight.    Stephen Canning, Senior Associate Transport Planner, Stantec then gave an informative presentation, demystifying the STAG process which is used for appraising transport projects in Scotland.

Heather Waugh, Train Driver and Industry Advocate, Freightliner, described how ‘making it personal’ is the key to building diversity, retaining staff and encouraging great people into the industry. Heather described her own journey, and the people that had caused her to speak up as an industry advocate.  She highlighted how as individuals we are each key to driving change and supporting others in the sector, and pointed out areas where as a sector we need to improve to encourage a more diverse workforce.

 Michael Whittaker, Associate Director, AECOM gave a round up of three recent rail freight studies for Aberdeen, Buchan and Go Forth.  In each case the study has highlighted potential for rail freight growth, including significant opportunities in energy transformation.

Our final speaker Patrick Hughes, Strategic Services Director at SAOS (Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society) spoke about how the Scottish agriculture sector are working together to encourage exports of key products around the world.  Patrick highlighted potential opportunities for rail freight, both via Grangemouth and via other UK ports.

After lunch, delegates enjoyed a tour of the Port of Grangemouth that included seeing first-hand the scale of the container terminal that handles around 12,000 TEU per month and its 600,000sq ft of warehousing and development plans to nearly double that in the next 2-3 years. The highlight was to witness the loading of the final few containers on to the trial Elderslie to Grangemouth intermodal service announced at the conference, a full 20 platforms, before the Freightliner hauled service began its return trip back to WH Malcolm in Elderslie.

RFG would like to thank all our speakers, and Forth Ports, The Malcolm Group and Freightliner for their support.