Real action and achievement on climate taking place on Scotland's tracks - Phil Smart

Phil Smart, Assistant Policy Manager, Rail Freight GroupPhil Smart, Assistant Policy Manager, Rail Freight Group
Phil Smart, Assistant Policy Manager, Rail Freight Group
Only time will judge whether COP26 was a success. To many it achieved real progress, to others not enough, and to some it was all ‘blah, blah, blah’. Whatever camp you are in, one thing is for sure, all eyes were on Scotland and the hospitality industry had much to cheer about after the covid lockdowns.

I was delighted to represent the Rail Freight Group at the Low Carbon Logistics event held at Mossend. This was a great opportunity to showcase the latest innovations in the rail freight sector and was well attended by Freight Operating Companies, customers, suppliers, and stakeholders from across the railway and political spectrum.

Transport Minister Graeme Day MSP opened the event by describing how getting more freight on rail was both a political and personal priority, stressing the need to reduce congestion as well as carbon in serving the economy.

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Alex Hynes, Managing Director for Scotland’s Railway reminded us that, besides being environmentally benign, the railway is also a climate change victim, and we owe it to those who lost their lives in the Stonehaven derailment, to redouble our efforts to make the railway more resilient as well as climate friendly. He reminded us that most of the electrification undertaken in the UK in recent times had been in Scotland but that there was more to do and that to keep costs down it was important to run electrification as a production line and not as individual projects.

There was an inspiring presentation from Highland Spring, in partnership with the Russell Group and WSP to transport bottled water by rail from a new terminal at Blackford. This alone saves 3,200t of CO2 and will remove 8,000 lorry movements a year from the local village, good news for them and for the haulage firm struggling to find drivers!

Perhaps the most innovative talk was from Tarmac who in partnership with Furrer and Frey are trialing a ‘First of A Kind’ project to install demountable overhead electrification into one of their terminals allowing electric trains right into the loading area. One possible site is Dunbar but even if this is not the final choice, it will only be a matter of time before this technology is widely adopted. Other notable achievements are the 40% fuel savings using double length ‘Jumbo’ trains and the use of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil as alternative fuel.

Bill Reeve, Director of Rail, Transport Scotland reminded delegates that 80 per cent of HGV emissions in Scotland were along the M74 corridor and this was driving Transport Scotland’s thinking around rail freight. He hoped to be making announcements soon about electrification of the Glasgow and South Western Route to Carlisle and about moving more timber by rail in future.

The conclusion from many speakers was that road and rail need to work as partners in future provided there were sufficient terminals available.

The Scottish Engineering Cluster Builder led the second day. I presented on ‘Decarbonising the Railway’ including opportunities for smaller enterprises to supply sustainable installations at depots and terminals. Scottish engineering can build on its proud railway history if we inspire more people to take up engineering and Dr. Susan Scurlock from the Primary Engineer project showed us what is being done in primary schools to promote STEM subjects and to encourage our children to become future problem solvers. Most of all, this must appeal to girls as well as boys and Heather Waugh gave an inspiring account of her life as Scotland’s only female freight train driver and how other women had inspired her along the way.

Mossend was certainly the place to be if you want to celebrate real action and achievement and not just future promises.

Phil Smart, Assistant Policy Manager, Rail Freight Group

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