Highland Spring has the bottle to invest in rail freight – John Yellowlees

A recent presentation by Ken Russell of JG ­Russell Transport and Morwen Mands of the Highland Spring Group at Blackford, below the rolling Ochils of Perthshire, slaked the thirst of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport for a model of how to embed sustainability in Scottish business.

John Yellowlees Chair  CILT Scotland
John Yellowlees Chair CILT Scotland

Highland Spring Group was established in 1979. The business employs more than 470 staff across four sites and is the UK’s leading producer of natural-source bottled water.

Its core purpose is to provide healthy hydration in an environmentally sustainable way. Bottling capacity was increased in 2017 by installing a new production line at Blackford to provide the fastest, most technologically advanced bottled drinks line in the UK.

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Highland Spring water is carefully drawn from the Ochils in an environmentally sustainable way. A mere 3 per cent of the total rainfall is abstracted and the business protects the land and environment around the water sources.

Highland Spring was the first ­bottled water brand in the UK to have its catchment area certified as organic by The Soil Association.

In 2018, the business rolled out a 100 per cent recycled and recyclable Highland Spring ‘eco bottle’ of which more than 10 million have been sold to date.

Construction will shortly begin on a new rail freight facility, adjacent to the group’s main bottling plant in Blackford. This will enable the business to transport goods in a more environmentally sustainable way and reduce its carbon footprint through the removal of about 8,000 truck movements from the road each year, saving 3,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The new facility will be operated by JG Russell, a long-term strategic partner of the business.

Russell Group has been pioneering the use of rail freight as a sustainable transport method since the 1970s.

It currently operates six rail-linked sites and has an impressive delivery performance of 99.4 per cent on southbound rail transportation.

With a wealth of experience in both rail and multimodal logistic solutions, it is an ideal partner to assist Highland Spring’s desire to increase use of rail freight.

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Highland Spring Group was granted planning permission for the rail freight facility in 2016 and entered the Network Rail GRIP (Governance for Railway Investment Projects) ­process in February 2017. GRIP is a management and control ­process developed by Network Rail for ­delivering projects on the operational railway.

Highland Spring Group emphasised how supportive Network Rail has been throughout the design and approval process, and it has developed an excellent working ­relationship based on mutual trust and co-operation.

During design development, ­Network Rail discussed any future-proofing requirements in the Blackford area, such as proposed electrification of the main line between ­Dunblane and Perth and Scottish Governments plans for improved passenger services, and agreed a new south-facing connection to enter and leave the facility for which planning permission was granted in 2018.

Highland Spring Group has ­sensitively designed the facility to minimise the noise and visual impact on the community and the business is committed to being a good ­neighbour.

Each train will be equivalent in size to 22 HGVs. Two daily train paths on Monday to Friday and a weekly Saturday train path have been secured.

A fully electric rubber-tyre crane will lift and position containers on the train, and Highland Spring is exploring opportunities to bring raw materials to site by rail which will ­further reduce their carbon footprint.

Rail freight reduces CO2 emissions by up to 76 per cent compared to road and if the main line between Dunblane and Perth is electrified in future, there is an opportunity to consider the use of electric freight locomotives with a diesel engine for shunting in the yard.

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Luddon Construction will soon begin construction of the new freight facility, the first in Scotland for more than 10 years. Construction is expected to take 12-14 months with the facility being operational in early 2021. Highland Spring Group highlighted that excellent collaborative working relationships have been key to the progress and success of the project to date.

CILT commends their lead to other Scottish companies seeking a response to the climate emergency in which we now find ourselves.

John Yellowlees, chair, CILT Scotland.