SCOTLAND’S main train operator is seeking a new supplier to deliver 48 million litres of diesel a year – by road.
The £31 million ScotRail contract, involving some 1,500 tanker movements, comes despite ministers urging further reductions in the environmental impact of railways.
It also contrasts starkly with Prestwick – Scotland’s fourth largest airport – which gets all its 70m litres of fuel a year by rail from the Grangemouth refinery.
Environmental campaigners called on the Scottish Government to stipulate that ScotRail switches its supply route as part of the next franchise from 2014.
ScotRail and other train operators in Scotland have received diesel by road since British Rail abandoned rail deliveries before privatisation in the 1990s.
However, ministers have said rail is one of the greener forms of travel and “there are still many ways that rail can reduce its environmental impact”.
They also aim to make this a “key environmental theme” of the new ScotRail franchise – which is their biggest contract – and they intend to electrify Scotland’s main inter-city routes, powered by renewable energy
ScotRail has some 150 diesel trains – more than half its fleet – which operate almost all routes outside Strathclyde.
The new one-year diesel supply contract, from April, comprises 23 million litres being delivered to three train depots in Glasgow, 10.6m to Haymarket in Edinburgh, 8.4m to Inverness and 6.5m to Perth.
Scottish Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “The renewal of this contract to deliver fuel for Scotland’s trains by road underlines what we have long argued – we need to get serious about shifting freight from road to rail and need to speed up the timescales for electrifying the rail network.
“The SNP government’s 2014 consultation, widely accepted as a shambles, asks how Scotland’s rail service can reduce its environmental impact. This fuel contract would seem a golden opportunity that ministers should have acted upon before now.”
Paul Tetlaw, for sustainable transport campaigners Transform Scotland, said: “If the national rail operator is getting its fuel by road, road freight is too cheap and it should be encouraged to switch to rail.”
David Spaven, Scottish representative of the Rail Freight Group, said: “Virtually all oil refineries are directly rail-connected so for the longer hauls it’s hard to imagine anything more suited to rail transport.
“For many years there has been a weekly oil train from Grangemouth to Lairg which passes right by the ScotRail fuelling point at Inverness.”
A spokesman for Aberdeen-based FirstGroup, which runs ScotRail, said: “As a result of suppliers’ arguments on grounds of costs and flexibility, British Rail removed the facilities for deliveries within rail locations under a rationalisation programme. ScotRail inherited that position.
“The latest tender for fuel on the open market is designed to get the best price possible.”
A Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency spokeswoman said: “ScotRail supplies and contracts, and environmental considerations regarding these, are a matter for ScotRail under the current franchise contract.
“We recognise this could potentially be improved upon and are considering the environmental criteria for the future franchise.”