Transport Scotland’s new Scottish rail investment strategy should be good news for freight, according to the country’s leading association representing logistics, providing attention is given to how the rail industry can access the funding needed for growth.
The Freight Transport Association (FTA), which speaks for the whole of the sector, has welcomed the publication of the Rail Enhancements and Capital Investment Strategy as a great opportunity to view the challenges facing rail freight as part of an industry-wide programme of investment. But, as Chris MacRae, Head of Rail Freight at FTA says, this is set against a challenging financial backdrop:
“The new Scottish rail investment strategy’s pipeline approach, which views the challenges facing freight as part of a wider look at the sector as a whole, is welcome news for those moving goods and services across the country’s network,” he says. “This should enable freight to be viewed as part of the full picture of rail usage across Scotland, giving due priority to the operators whose livelihoods depend on accessibility and efficiency throughout the network.
“However, with funding for rail falling in real terms from UK government, it is imperative that the Scottish government does not allow rail freight to become the ‘poor relation’ in investment terms. A funding gap of £460m means that improvements will need to be prioritised, and we are urging Transport Scotland to keep the needs of freight in mind when making decisions about where the money will be spent.”
The Scottish rail freight sector currently contributes more than £670m in Gross Value Added annually to the Scottish economy, and supports up to 13,000 jobs, with goods ranging from timber to Scotch whisky being moved across country, and throughout the British Isles, as well as to Europe. As MacRae says, FTA is keen to keep working with Transport Scotland to ensure that the interests of the nation’s freight operators remain top of mind to achieve the growth targets set by government for the sector:
“Scottish rail freight, and the sector as a whole, is already facing challenges and competition and the trading environment will undoubtedly become more pressurised as Brexit approaches. This holistic approach to funding should provide reassuring economies of scale to maximise the impact of funding, and FTA will be working closely with Transport Scotland to ensure that a continued Scottish freight fund can be clarified at the earliest possible opportunity. Without this commitment to freight, the opportunities which rail presents could be lost for Scottish business at a time when the economy is already under severe pressure.”