THE distillery industry on Speyside has launched a trial scheme to ship whisky to Central Scotland by rail instead of road in a bid to ease traffic congestion and reduce potentially harmful carbon emissions.
During the trial, two weekly freight trains will replace the 29 lorry trips normally required to take shipments of Scotland’s national drink from the heart of whisky country to Grangemouth.
Currently all bulk Scotch whisky and spirit is moved by road the 200 miles from Speyside to warehouses and bottling halls across Central Scotland. But a number of Scotland’s leading whisky producers are working together on the “whisky trains” trial, including Diageo, Chivas Brothers, John Dewar & Sons, Whyte and Mackay and Glen Turner.
A spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: “It is the first time there has been any substantial volume of goods, including Scotch whisky, transported by train from Elgin since the mid-1980s. Such innovation has been made possible following work by Network Rail, with some Scottish Government funding, to improve the train route and facilities around Elgin.”
The trial scheme - dubbed “Lifting the Spirit” - is being supported by the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and Moray Council. It is due to run until around mid-November
The spokesman explained: “Trains will run twice a week from Elgin to Grangemouth. There is potential to carry other food and drink products along with Scotch Whisky. Empty Bourbon casks from the USA for the Scotch Whisky industry may be carried on the return journey to Speyside, along with other goods, such as malt and barley.”
Tony Jarvis, HIE’s senior development manager for transport, said: “This project has the potential to support the expansion of one of Scotland’s key exporting industries. Any increase in whisky production requires a proportional increase in the transport required, with additional pressure on roads and carbon emissions.
“The project partners and the whisky industry are keen to find ways to offset or reduce these impacts, and rail provides a potentially viable option for longer distance movements, such as from Moray to the Central Belt.”
Richard Lochhead, the MSP for Moray and Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary, also welcomed the scheme. He said: “The area covered by this trial is home to 77 distilleries which produce 85 per cent of all Scotch malt whisky.
“That equates to a lot of freight on Scotland’s roads. “The Scottish Government is keen to see more goods moved by rail or water, where this is commercially viable, to ease traffic congestion and help the environment.
“I welcome this project and look forward to seeing its results.”
Julie Hesketh-Laird, director of operational and technical affairs at the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “The Scotch Whisky industry continues to grow. On-going investment by producers is allowing the industry to expand to meet global demand for Scotch. Lifting the Spirit is an innovative and collaborative trial allowing us to move some of the spirit from our distilleries in Speyside to central Scotland by rail for a trial period. It will complement the service being offered by road haulage companies and will help us assess the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”