RFG welcomes Scotland’s Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan

Transport for Scotland has published its Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan. The plan focuses on decarbonising transport through modal shift to rail, and decarbonising rail traction energy through the removal of diesel passenger trains from the Scottish network by 2035. Transport for Scotland will seek to maximise all opportunities for modal shift to rail from heavy goods vehicles. Options for electrification of freight sidings, if appropriate, and terminal requirements will be reviewed during the design phases.

The plan also expects and encourages ‘all constituent parts of the rail industry, including Network Rail, train and freight operating companies and rolling stock providers, to produce long-term plans to achieve both interim and long-term targets towards broader industry-wide decarbonisation’.

Around 45% of Scottish rail freight journeys are currently electrically hauled from origin to destination.  The plan aims to electrify, on average, 130 single track kilometres per year in order to achieve the 2035 target. As a significant proportion of freight is cross-border, the plan commits to working with the UK Government to align electrification plans so that key freight routes from England to Scotland have fully electrified lines especially to/from key English ports.

The plan notes that there is known latent demand for rail freight as environmental concerns are beginning to change the logistics choices of Scottish producers. For example, there is demand for an additional four trains a day (in each direction) to both Aberdeenshire and Inverness-shire. As each freight train can remove up to 76 HGVs from the road, these additional services could provide a potential maximum reduction in road transport of 1216 lorries.

The RFG welcomes the plan’s commitment to a long-term programme of electrification, rather than an intermittent schedule with peaks and troughs, to ‘provide a high degree of investment certainty for the industry so that the supply chain can plan, recruit and make resources ready with confidence. In doing so we hope to achieve a constant work bank and engender confidence within the rail sector’. The plans intends that this will enable the rail supply industry to ‘implement more appropriate techniques and equipment utilising knowledge and experience gained from our earlier projects in order to deliver and secure greater efficiencies’. As the plan sets out, there significant prospects for the creation of more skilled, sustainable jobs in Scotland in the direct provision of electrification as well as in the supply of rolling stock and advanced technologies in the design of alternative traction methods to complement electrification of the network.

The plan states that the next National Planning Framework (currently in preparation) must contribute to a range of outcomes including meeting greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and  align with and facilitate a wide range of Scottish Government policy and strategies. Taking forward the action plan ‘requires support from – and should be reflected in – our land-use planning framework’.

The plan sets out other significant advantages of electrically hauled or bi-mode rail freight in addition to the environmental benefits, these include:

  • faster acceleration to reduce journey times (crucial for rail freight’s competitiveness with road freight) and improve rail capacity for all rail users
  • increased modal shift to rail – preventing lorry miles and reducing road congestion
  • increased efficiency from removing the unpredictability and expense of diesel costs. The increased payload potential also reduces overall industry costs
  • productivity gains (more freight carried per path) – would not come at the expense of performance or capacity; and
  • electric freight locomotives can be quieter than diesel locomotives those living near the railway

Joe O’Donnell, Head of Policy, Rail Freight Group said: “The RFG welcomes this clear plan to decarbonise Scotland’s railways which clearly sets out the benefits of electric traction for rail freight and Scotland. The plan will further improve rail freight’s environmental credentials and its competitiveness with road freight. We especially welcome the statement that the needs of rail should be reflected in the next National Planning Framework. The only note of caution is the statement that electrification of some freight only lines may be subject to review. Certainty is key for private sector investment. Transport for Scotland should clarify the details of such review.”