Road to rail modal shift: Distillers’ requirements – ‘criteria for success’

09 Mar 2015


Scotch Whisky industry investment and subsequent increases in spirit production is driving the need for ever better and flexible modes of transport for all the industry's input needs, by-products and spirit (bulk and cased goods).

In 2013 the Scotch Whisky Industry participated in the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS)-led demonstration project on modal shift (the so-called 'Lifting the Spirit' project).

The project, was due to formally report in late-2014, tested the feasibility of switching the transport of some bulk spirit from road to rail for the journey from Speyside to the Scottish central belt.

The industry supports the use of rail for transporting cased goods to export markets, for example around 29% of bottled exports to France were moved by rail in 2012.

Rail transportation of bulk spirit has the potential to cut road journeys and emissions and offer flexibility in transport options for a growing industry. The Lifting the Spirit trial was a complex project with broad support, involving distillers, HITRANS, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Network Rail, Moray Council, the Scottish Government and the EU FoodPort Programme.  There was a real willingness by distillers to be involved in this collaborative demonstration project. Many challenges were revealed during the trial - some of which will require strong collaboration to overcome in the long term.

While the programme showed it was physically possible to move spirit by rail, it revealed many practical, health and safety, compliance and contractual matters that need attention before rail transportation of spirit can become a long-term option for distillers. The trial demonstrated real appetite across the supply chain for change and we hope the commitment can be maintained to make the logistical and commercial aspects of rail transport work to become a permanent option.   

This paper, building on the learnings from the Lifting the Spirit project aims to signal to the wider downstream supply chain, the Scotch Whisky industry's broad requirements.  It should be read as 'criteria for success'.  The paper covers the essential criteria that must be met in order to satisfy distillers and give them the required confidence to consider transport by rail in the future.  These requirements are not exclusive and individual Scotch Whisky companies may have companyspecific prerequisites.