The Scottish High-Level Output Statement (SHLOS) was published on 3 Feb 2023 and with it set out what the rail industry is to achieve during the period for Control Period 7 (1 April 2024 to 31 March 2029).
Scottish Ministers have tasked Network Rail once again to keep a focus on rail freight in its strategy, planning and delivery activities with headline objectives around freight growth, freight strategy and freight stretch targets.
- Freight Growth – is to facilitate net growth in CP7 of 8.7% net tonne-kilometres in rail freight on the Scottish network in conjunction with industry stakeholders. Growth is to be achieved on the existing capability of the real network without further enhancements. This should focus minds on developing traffic immediately rather than hanging on for future planned upgrades.
- Freight Strategy – A longer-term rail freight growth strategy is required by halfway through CP7, which is by the end of 2026. This is to be developed collaboratively in consultation with the industry and provides an evolutionary step from “Scotland’s Industry Rail Freight Growth Plan”, published in 2019.
- Freight Stretch Target – Interestingly, the challenge has been laid down by Scottish Ministers to aim to achieve a stretch target of a higher rail freight growth rate, based on the existing successful industry collaborations, with 10% growth suggested as being reasonably achievable over the period.
The approach in the 2019 Rail Freight Growth Plan is expected to be continued, especially in encouraging customer confidence, developing growth, doing things differently and looking for simpler solutions. New market opportunities are recognised and Network Rail must demonstrate to potential new customers the reliable and sustainable logistics solutions that rail can provide. The SHLOS is framed within wider Scottish Government policy and recognises the value of moving freight by rail in terms of achieving the Government’s transport emission reduction targets, supporting a sustainable economy and helping the competitive position of Scottish business.
Scotland’s rail network
In terms of the network, Network Rail is to ensure that rail freight can secure efficient paths on the railway and demonstrate throughout CP7 that it is using all the levers available to it to make rail freight attractive to businesses across Scotland. This includes simplifying its processes to attract third-party investment and facilitate easier access to the railway.
The benefits of electrification are highlighted and Network Rail is required to build on the successes it achieved during CP6, especially efforts to drive down the cost of railway electrification works in Scotland.
Scotland’s strategic priorities regarding signalling differ from those elsewhere in Great Britain and Scottish Ministers have concluded there is no business case for the European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 in Scotland at this time. This is largely due to the rail traffic characteristics and capacity issues being different. Instead, other investments are believed to secure the potential benefits of ETCS more cost-effectively, more quickly and at lower risk. The forward plan for signalling will therefore be developed from the CP6 obligation to prepare a fully-developed signalling strategy, ’Signalling Scotland’s Future’, which provides a framework to develop each route’s specific signalling and approach best suited to Scotland’s Railway.
Network Rail is required to maintain freight gauge capability to at least the capability in the most recently published issue of the Sectional Appendix, or the special authorisation issued by Network Rail on a RT3973 form. Having confidence in this data is noted as key to enabling freight and other train operators to be able to plan the movement of vehicles around the network without the need for expensive and time-consuming bespoke gauging exercises. To achieve this, Network Rail’s processes are seen to need improvements.
In regard to cross-border movements, Network Rail is to ensure that at least one cross-border route is available at all times other than in unforeseen or exceptional circumstances.
Network Rail must provide capability to ensure that the Freight Cancellations and Lateness (FCaL) measure for freight trains on Scotland’s railway does not exceed 5.5%. Improving performance is also backed with an objective for Network Rail to increase average speed of freight trains through good operational practices, timetabling, programmes and in collaboration with passenger and freight operators.
By Martin Bignell, RFG.