All bulk Scotch Whisky and spirit is moved by road at the moment from Speyside to warehouses and bottling halls across central Scotland.
The ‘Lifting the Spirit’ project is designed to reduce lorry movements, test an alternative transport option for the expanding Scotch whisky industry and assess the benefit to the environment.
The first trains transporting Scotch will leave Elgin goods yard in Speyside this week (September 13) to make the journey of more than 200 miles through Aberdeen to Grangemouth in central Scotland.
Several producers are working together on the trial, including Diageo, Chivas Brothers, John Dewar & Sons, Whyte & Mackay and Glen Turner.
It is the first time there has been any substantial volume of goods, including Scotch, transported by train from Elgin since the mid-1980s. It has been made possible following work by Network Rail, with some Scottish Government funding, to improve the train route and facilities around Elgin.
‘Lifting the Spirit’ is being driven and part-funded by HITRANS (the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership),Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Moray Council. The European Union’s North Sea Region Programme is also funding the trial, as part of the Food Port project, which involves a number of private and public sector organisations working together.
Trains will run twice a week from Elgin to Grangemouth. There is potential to carry other food and drink products along with Scotch. Empty Bourbon casks from theUS for the Scotch Whisky industry may be carried on the return journey to Speyside, along with other goods, such as malt and barley.
The trial will run until around mid-November and an independent academic partner is being appointed to analyse the results of the trial and investigate its feasibility in the longer-term.
Councillor John Semple, HITRANS chair, said: “We hope to demonstrate the capability of the rail network, a reduction in carbon emissions and the value of working collaboratively.”
HIE is investing £30,000 in the project. Tony Jarvis, HIE’s senior development manager for transport, said: “This project has the potential to support the expansion of one ofScotland’s key exporting industries. Any increase in whisky production requires a proportional increase in the transport required, with additional pressure on roads and carbon emissions. The project partners and the whisky industry are keen to find ways to offset or reduce these impacts, and rail provides a potentially viable option for longer distance movements, such as from Moray to the Central Belt.”
Moray Councillor Fiona Murdoch, ward member for Speyside and the council’s HITRANS board member, said: “I am very hopeful that this pilot will see a reduction in lorry journeys up and down the A9, easing congestion and reducing pollution which will benefit everyone. It makes perfect sense to use the rail network to move large quantities of spirit from here to the central belt, and I look forward to the time when the rail becomes first choice for producers when transporting bulk goods such as this.”
Julie Hesketh-Laird, director of operational and technical affairs at the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “The Scotch Whisky industry continues to grow. On-going investment by producers is allowing the industry to expand to meet global demand for Scotch. ‘Lifting the Spirit’ is an innovative and collaborative trial allowing us to move some of the spirit from our distilleries in Speyside to central Scotland by rail for a trial period. It will complement the service being offered by road haulage companies and will help us assess the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”
UK government Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment Richard Lochhead said: “The area covered by this trial is home to 77 distilleries which produce 85% of all of Scotch malt whisky. That equates to a lot of freight on Scotland’s roads. The Scottish Government is keen to see more goods moved by rail or water, where this is commercially viable, to ease traffic congestion and help the environment. I welcome this project and look forward to seeing its results.”