Case for Aberdeen rail tunnel improvements bolstered

In 2022, Campaign for North East Rail (CNER) submitted a FOI request to Network Rail requesting information regarding previous investigatory works undertaken upon the Schoolhill and Hutcheon Street tunnels in Aberdeen.

Schoolhill tunnel mouth
Schoolhill tunnel mouth

On receiving a reply, the group believe the response justifies further analysis of this section of line.

This single line section forms a timetabling bottleneck for the campaign's primary aim of reinstating rail services to Peterhead and Fraserburgh via Ellon.

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It also limits the potential in the North East for growth in rail freight, as these tunnels prevent the carriage of standard shipping containers.

As part of the Aberdeen to Inverurie phase 1 redoubling works (2019), upgrades to the tunnels were considered, but dismissed as out of scope for that particular project.

The FOI response outlines how Network Rail conducted a preliminary assessment of the tunnels, and concluded that to reinstate redoubled track, lowering of the trackbed would be required to facilitate double track, but also to enable full electrification of the route. No further analysis was completed after this initial phase.

Crucially, since redoubling the tunnels was not necessary for phase 1 project to meet it's goals, no independent analysis of the benefits of reinstating the tunnel tracks was undertaken.

Furthermore, no engineering assessment was carried out on the section to explore the technical feasibility and options.

Redoubling this section would have significant benefits for the North East and wider rail network, allowing enhanced capacity, timetable improvements and additional freight paths, all before allowing for frequent Buchan services.

It would provide major capacity and resilience improvements, increasing to 30 plus trains per hour, up from 11 presently.

Double tracking this section, with full electrification, would mean enhancements for passenger services, and more paths for freight. Making it feasible for carriage of Intermodal containers; timber, whisky, military equipment and more from Dyce, Inverurie, Huntly, Keith and Elgin. This unlocks significant potential for increased growth in Scotland's rail freight market, growth of which being an existing Scottish Government aim.

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Increasing the freight gauge would finally allow shipping containers to traverse the section.

This opens up an opportunity to maximise the benefits of the new Aberdeen South Harbour, by capturing container ship traffic from Scandinavia and the EU across the Baltic Sea, making use of the rail link at the main Aberdeen Harbour, now that Oil and Renewables traffic are moving to the new facility.

Finally, civil engineering works on the tunnels unlock the potential of a half hourly service on the proposed Buchan Railway, maximising the potential of the new line, and setting up Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Ellon for growth, development and regeneration in the years ahead.

CNER have produced an engineering proposal that delivers all of these benefits, while minimising, or eliminating expensive track lowering works.

Jordan Jack, co-chair of CNER said: “This FOI result has now given the campaign a full understanding of previous works, and thus provides a foundation for us to build the new study on top of what came before.

“These engineering proposals will be included in the upcoming feasibility study, funded by the Just Transition Fund. CNER are taking the opportunity to study the benefits of upgrading these tunnels on their own merits, irrespective of the findings in regards to the Buchan lines.

“Discussions and design work on the study are continuing with ongoing engagement with Nestrans, Enginering consultants, Network Rail and all of our local partners and supporters.​​​​​​​”