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Issue 5 2015 - Freight Business Journal

One cheer for cheaper oil

Falling prices at the pumps have been welcomed all across the country – except by the Scots, who have decidedly mixed feelings. Lower fuel prices may cut costs for hauliers, and put money in some consumers’ pockets, but many jobs north of the border are heavily dependent on the Black Stuff. But while Big Oil may not be quite the money-earner it once once, there is plenty of other business to go for.

The long and winding railroad

Scotland, especially the northern part, is quite a distance from the Midlands and the South of England, so rail should be able to play an important part in the freight

market. Frustratingly,

though, development is being held back by awkward pinch- points on the network, says the Rail Freight Group (RFG)’s Scottish representative, David Spaven – so much so, that it is possible that the country will see a move back from rail to road. Not only are there gaps in the

network cleared for high-cube and extra wide containers, but sections of single track and a lack of long passing loops limit the number and length of freight trains that it can handle, especially north of the Central Belt. The West Coast Main Line

(WCML) south from the main central belt hubs at Coatbridge and Mossend is cleared for ‘W10’

gauge, namely 9’6” high, 2.5m wide high cube containers on standard rail wagons. At the same time, Network Rail is extending the W12 ‘universal gauge’, capable of accommodating, for example, deep sea refrigerated containers of 9’6”height and 2.6m width up the East Coast Main Line (ECML) from the south to Mossend via Edinburgh in 2016. However, RFG would also

like the main Anglo-Scottish rail freight artery, the West Coast Main Line, to be cleared to W12 as far north as Grangemouth, as well as Mossend and Coatbridge to

complement the ECML

clearance and provide maximum intermodal capability. At the same time, RFG would

like to see loop lines of 775 metres on both main lines to allow 60- 75mph freight trains to dovetail with increasingly frequent fast passenger services – though an even better solution might be longer sections of duplicate track that would allow freight trains to keep moving while they are being overtaken by passenger services, known in the rail industry as dynamic loops. But it is north of Glasgow and

Edinburgh that the railways are arguably least fit for purpose, Spaven argues. Here, there are long sections of single track – two thirds of the route from Perth to

Inverness, for example, along with a couple of awkward sections on the line to Aberdeen. Short passing loops mean that the trains operated by Stobart Rail for Tesco – widely regarded as a breakthrough in retail distribution by rail when they were introduced a few years ago – can only handle 20 containers, as opposed to the 28 that would routinely be carried south of the border. Spaven makes unfavourable

comparisons between the relatively small sums being spent on rail improvements with the £3 billion that could go into the proposed dualling of the A9 trunk road to Inverness, a project that could ultimately cost rail much of its hard-won intermodal business in the North. “So instead of a shiſt from road to rail that we have seen, we could see a shiſt back to road,” he warns. That said, the A9 dualling is

not a done deal, although some politicians do see it as a vote- winner in certain quarters. At times, the arguments over rail’s undoubted


benefits and the effects of more road traffic on climate change seem to have been forgotten, although a survey by the Sustainable Transport Alliance suggested that what the public would really like to see is proper maintenance of existing roads,

not widespread building of new ones. Part of the problem, Spaven

acknowledges, is that the now rather fragmented rail freight industry – there are around half a dozen separate operators – doesn’t have as strong a voice as the road lobby, or indeed, the shipping industry. “It’s indicative, he says, “that there is no National Development Status for any rail projects,” whereas three separate port projects have been so blessed. Rail lines are expensive to

operate and maintain, so it is a pity that more use isn’t made of them for freight. There is now little or no freight on the long Scottish rural routes such as Glasgow-Stranraer or Inverness-Kyle of Lochalsh, for instance. Innovative devices such as the ‘non intrusive crossover’ could allow temporary sidings to be installed for sporadic flows such as timber or for trial flows of traffic. Spaven also contrasts the

€200,000 a year paid to keep the Zeebrugge-Rosythe ferry going compared with the absence of pump priming grants to revive through freight services between Scotland and the Continent, which are now a distant memory. One of the most important

rail flows, and moreover one that is vital to Scottish exports,

is the whisky export trade from the Freightliner terminal at Coatbridge near Glasgow to the southern UK ports. While Coatbridge and Freightliner “do a very good job” the infrastructure dates from the 1960s and it will need replacing soon. However, it has not been possible yet to build a business case, “and

getting Freight Facilities Grants from the Scottish Government is highly problematic.” A large part of the problem here is that the Government demands firm commitments from customers, but as Coatbridge is a common- user terminal with around 200 different customers, this is almost impossible to obtain.

Diversity is strength for T. Ward

The North Sea oil trade may be in retreat in the face of soaring crude prices but the port of Leith handled its first coal cargo for many a year, says Callum Hamilton, shipping agent at local firm T.Ward. Leith used to be Scotland’s premier coal port, and while it is highly unlikely that the cargo will ever regain its former pre-eminence, the shipment of household coal from Latvia handled this February is an encouraging sign that Leith is recovering, he says. Along with oilfield-related

business, T.Ward has also stepped up its freight forwarding and customs clearance work,


Callum Hamilton. “Many people use customs clearance agents in Felixstowe or the south, but we can offer the exact same

service.” Moreover, being a local agent, T.Ward can guide first-time importers through the process. “This side of the business is

growing a lot,” Callum Hamilton says. “Many people are ordering and reselling goods on the Internet – clothing, giſts, toys, e-cigarettes and even drones. What’s also good about it is that it tends to be repeat business.” Export waste, shipped in bulk,

is another big business – for example processed PVC to India or recycled glass heading for Spain, along with refuse-derived fuel. Naturally, this is low value cargo so shippers tend to wait until a ship bringing in an import becomes available; shipowners are usually willing to offer a low rate.


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