Scottish port operator announces rail expansion for Grangemouth

Forth Ports, the operators of Scottish container terminal Grangemouth have announced a development programme to enhance rail handling facilities at the Central Scotland terminal. The three million British pounds (3.3 million euros) investment will double the reception roads available, and extend handling capacity to cope with 775-metre trains, the new standard maximum length for UK freight operations.

Grangemouth, which the operators claim is the largest freight hub in Scotland, is set to expand rail operations, with an upgrade and modernisation, that will make the port compliant with the maximum standard length of UK freight train. The multimillion-pound investment in the port’s rail freight handling capacity will, Forth Ports say, cement its position as an export and import hub for Scotland.

Rail and sea interconnectivity

The £3 million investment will significantly scale up and modernise the port’s current rail capacity to create an extended dual rail siding of 775 metres – currently 200 metres – capable of handling the longest freight trains on the UK network. “When operational early next year, Grangemouth will be the first rail freight terminal to offer this and provide enhanced container / domestic intermodal options particularly for customers in the food, drink and perishables sectors across the Scottish freight community”, says a statement from Grangemouth.

Work is already underway at Grangemouth to add a new siding and extend existing roads to 775m handling capacity. DRS and Tesco appear impatient to get in there (Forth Ports – Peter Devlin)

The operators, Forth Ports, who are based downstream at Edinburgh, say the investment in rail comes at an important time for the freight market. “Businesses are seeking flexible, resilient, and greener supply chain solutions. Grangemouth has the unrivalled position of being truly interconnected for sea to rail and rail to sea, with the added flexibility of direct road access into Central Scotland and beyond”, says a statement. “With regular container ship calls into the port each week from mainland Europe and the South East of England, this increased rail capacity will help to take trucks off the UK’s congested roads and to lower customers’ carbon footprint.”

Ready in January

Forth Ports began as the operators of the docks around the Port of Leith, Edinburgh. The company has since grown to take in further operations on the river, including Grangemouth. The company also operates Tilbury on the River Thames in London, and recently made several investment announcements around its Tilbury2 development. The company also entered into a partnership with DP World, who operate the nearby London Gateway, and made a joint application for Freeport status.

Traditional maritime links between the ports are still active, however modern rail services link Grangemouth and its Tilbury sister with a connection through Daventry. Forth Ports is wasting no time in expanding facilities at Grangemouth. Construction of the new rail extension starts this month (December) and is expected to welcome its first train in January 2021, building on current rail volumes at the port.

Bulk legacy and intermodal future

Grangemouth is better known as the location of Scotland’s only oil refinery, and that massive installation represents the largest example of the area’s heavy industrial legacy. Although the metal working heritage around Grangemouth and neighbouring Falkirk has closed, Grangemouth is still a popular port for landing bulk industrial flows. As elsewhere however, intermodal traffic has continued to grow, and the port has on-site warehouses, convenient for supermarket distribution centres within Central Scotland.

Derek Knox, senior port manager at Grangemouth (Forth Ports)

Commenting on the investment, Derek Knox, senior port manager at Grangemouth said that the past five years had seen investment of over 30 million British pounds (33 million euros). “We now look to extend this further and the investment in our rail terminal is part of our strategy to provide more resilient, cost effective, greener and efficient options for rail freight transportation”, he said. “The unique advantage of the Grangemouth rail freight terminal is that it is directly linked to Scotland’s largest container port. This enables customers to easily connect to established short and deep-sea shipping connections to European and international markets.”

Beat the Brexit backlog

With Brexit a matter of days away, and there being much fear over congestion and delays at south of England ports, Grangemouth may well be expanding at just the right time. If the extended rail facilities can be completed in time, this port in the heart of Scotland, with direct southbound rail and road connections to markets all over Britain, will be ideally placed to take advantage and offer a congestion-free alternative.

“As the UK prepares to leave the EU Single Market and the Customs Union, the freight sector is looking at ways to maintain an efficient free flowing supply chain”, added Knox. “With the new rail offering combined with our established port operations and streamlined customs processes, the freight hub we are creating provides a unique solution.”

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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