Every day during the coronavirus crisis, more than 14,000 tonnes of products - including food and medicine - are being moved across Scotland’s rail network.
That’s 100,000 tonnes of goods each week that will help ensure that families in every part of our country – from Inverness to Dumfries, in rural communities and in towns and cities across the central belt, continue to see supermarket shelves filled.
Rail freight in normal times goes largely unnoticed – travelling by night and rumbling thought the darkness. But these are not normal times and Scotland’s freight routes are in the spotlight.
As Scotland does not have any deep-sea ports, it relies on cross-border freight services to keep its shops, pharmacies, and hospitals stocked and warehouses supplied for online shopping.
More than seven thousand tonnes of products – including beans, bananas, pasta and other essentials, pass over the England-Scotland border every 24 hours – meaning that goods can be stacked on supermarket shelves the next day.
With Britain in crisis, locked down to halt the spread of coronavirus, the importance of freight comes into sharp focus. Customer demand for critical supplies to supermarkets has remained consistent, and the freight industry is standing together with Network Rail to keep key supply lines open and trains moving.
As the coronavirus pandemic goes on, Network Rail’s priority is to keep vital supply routes, notably both the East and West Coast main lines, open. Critical to this are front-line specialists, such as signallers and maintenance teams, without whom the railway cannot operate.
Liam Sumpter, route director for Network Rail Scotland, said: “While the country pulls together to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, our front-line ‘key workers’ – including signallers, control room and track engineers, are working tirelessly to keep the railway running so that critical goods like food, fuel and medical supplies can continue to move across the country. It also means essential workers like carers, nurses and doctors can get to and from work.
“Running a safe and reliable railway is more important now than ever before. I’m proud of my team and the part they’re playing in keeping the country moving.”
Freight companies are looking at how they can run longer trains in order to get more containers per train to meet a forecast rise in demand over coming weeks and months.
Maggie Simpson, director general of Rail Freight Group, said: “The rail freight industry is working flat out to make sure essential supplies are available on supermarket shelves, that the lights stay on and that the warehouses have all the goods we need for online shopping.
“It is a real testament to all our staff, and those at Network Rail and across the railway for keeping up with changing demand and helping the whole of the UK in these difficult times.”
To prioritise freight and key worker journeys, a reduced timetable is currently running on the railway network.
Government guidelines are advising the public to only travel if absolutely essential.
People making essential journeys should visit www.nationalrail.co.uk to check the revised train times.