Aberdeen tunnels may raise their roof to allow for more freight
The Campaign for North East Rail (CNER) has been advocating for the removal of the roofs from the railway tunnels at the north end of Aberdeen station, which would allow for an increase in the loading gauge. This move would open up the route to more freight, allowing for the transportation of larger containers by rail.
The removal of the roofs would have a transformative effect on the rail network in the North East of Scotland, increasing capacity and promoting sustainable transport options. Up until a radical rationalisation in the 1960s, the region had a far more extensive network, serving almost all of the hinterland. Currently only the Aberdeen – Inverness line, and the main line down the east coast, are in use. Some short freight spurs exist in Aberdeen.
Aberdeen is often styled as the UK oil capital. In recent years the civic authorities have been emphasising a shift to other, greener industrial sectors. Local rail advocates and lobby group, CNER has promoted the development of the regional rail network as a sustainable way of supporting that growth. They say that a recently obtained document from the infrastructure agency Network Rail, via a Freedom of Information request, confirmed the need for the upgrading of the tunnels in Aberdeen. With this information, the CNER has been able to design feasibility study proposals for the project, which can now be properly examined on its own merits.
Major towns remain unserved by rail
Campaign for North East Rail has been advocating for the re-opening of railway lines to Peterhead and Fraserburgh. They say that would allow for both passenger and freight traffic to be carried by rail, instead of the existing road infrastructure around Aberdeen. Despite the expensive and controversial building of a relief road around the city, Aberdeen and the routes to the north, particularly around the busy airport, remain congested. The campaigners say that the coastal towns of Peterhead and Fraserburgh would be better served by rail, and more integrated into the future economy of the region.
Peterhead is the largest fishing port in Europe, with 150,000 tonnes of fish passing through its port every year. This freight was historically conveyed largely by rail, with regular consignments for London, and abroad. Modern day Peterhead Port is also a huge offshore support facility.. handling over 900,000 tonnes of freight for the oil industry. Even with the coming decline in the industry as we transition to renewable energy, this site will continue to support the industry through decommissioning, and can transition itself to support the future renewable industry. Campaigners say much of this traffic could find an economical home on rail if given the option.
Current developments give reasons for optimism
A recent visit of the Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth, to meet the Campaign for North East Rail, discussed their proposals and the transport problems faced in the North East of Scotland. The minister acknowledged that reconnecting Fraserburgh and Peterhead is a good idea, but also acknowledged that there is a process, developed by the Scottish government. The campaigners acknowledged that the encounter was extremely valuable, and they now have a clear roadmap for the next steps of this journey. However, as advocates elsewhere will testify, railway development is not an overnight success.
On the plus side, Network Rail, the national infrastructure agency which works in partnership with the Scottish government, is also working on an improvements program for the railway line between Aberdeen and Inverness. So far, that includes the construction of a new station at Inverness Airport and the possible addition of freight facilities at the adjacent timber processing mill. Campaigners would like to believe that these improvements might be the start of something far more radical. If coupled with the removal of the roofs from the tunnels and the reopening of the railway lines to Peterhead and Fraserburgh, would have a significant impact on the North East of Scotland, promoting sustainable transport options and supporting the growth of the communities in the region.
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