Scotland’s railways aren’t history, they’re the transport of the future

Scotland’s railway has been a success story in recent years, with substantial investment in electrification, infrastructure enhancements and new fleets.

The Infrastructure Commission for Scotland recognises the importance of connectivity for the future of the Scottish economy. It’s clear that with around 76% of passenger and 45% of freight journeys already on electric traction and future plans to electrify the lines to Barrhead and East Kilbride there is a very real and genuine ambition to go further. Elsewhere the new concourse at Glasgow Queen Street is another impressive recent upgrade.

As the owner and asset manager of around one third of the national passenger fleet, Porterbrook plays an important role in supporting the railway and protecting jobs across the rail supply chain. Every week we invest circa £3 million in the many companies who maintain and renew our assets, providing a clear programme of upcoming work and supporting around 7,000 jobs across the UK.

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Porterbrook is proud that a third of our workforce are women compared to a rail industry average of 16%. The company has several schemes for apprentices and graduates which has allowed us to introduce new talent into the industry who can work closely with, and learn from, experienced rail engineers. In addition, we recruit apprentices across all areas of the business, including our Finance and Planning departments.

The business has an established reputation in the field of rail innovation and our contribution to low-carbon technologies is widely recognised. We are keen to help the Scottish government deliver its ambition to decarbonise rail.

Network Rail recognises that there is a major role for diesel rolling stock in supporting the work to achieve interim emissions targets in advance of 2050. Diesel trains, with significant remaining asset life, can be upgraded cost effectively to improve its environmental footprint and support further reductions in emissions.

Immediate solutions in this regard include a hybrid train which combines a diesel engine and a battery system to reduce emissions and allow last clean mile operation, with the added benefit of improved performance and acceleration. We are also trialling the fitment of exhaust after-treatment technologies to several of our fleets which can reduce the emission of harmful pollutants from diesel engines such as nitrous oxide by over 80% and hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide by over 90%.

We joined forces with the University of Birmingham in 2018 to develop and deliver HydroFLEX, the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train. The train can significantly extend clean operation on long distance and non-electrified routes. HydroFLEX undertook mainline testing in September and October 2020 and we are exploring options to take the train on to other parts of the network.

We continue to work with key stakeholders to ensure the right rolling stock solutions can be found for the future of Scotland’s Railway. The rail decarbonisation plan shows that alternative traction can help provide communities with cost-effective and reliable rail services – these include routes such as Ayr to Stranraer, Glasgow to Oban and Mallaig and services north, east and west of Inverness.

CILT members will know better than most that the role of the railway in Britain’s economic and social life has evolved over 180 years of history. I have no doubt it will do so again amid the current uncertainties and challenges. Rail will be an important enabler of Scotland’s post-pandemic economic recovery but also for decarbonising wider transport. It’s vital that there is a long-term strategy for rail investment into which the future planning around rolling stock can be considered.

Mary Grant, CEO Porterbrook for CILT Scotland



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