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New cost 'will lead to more coal lorries'

UP to 150,000 more coal lorries a year will be forced on to Scotland's roads, risking a repeat of last week's crash that left a woman dead in her home, the industry has warned.

The influx of vehicles will not only raise safety concerns, but also impact on emissions and congestion and cost up to 4000 jobs in Scotland after new charges are imposed on freight companies from 2016, according to The Freight Trade Association (FTA).

On Thursday, carer Catherine Bonner, 55, died when a lorry laden with coal ploughed into her flat in Fairlie, North Ayrshire.

Local community leaders have warned of the dangers of lorries using the A78 road that runs through the village.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), which sets charges for operators using the rail network, is to introduce an additional charge on coal being used for electricity generation from 2016 of £4.04 a tonne.

This is expected to increase the cost of transporting coal from Scotland to power stations in England by up to 40%.

Chris MacRae, freight policy manager for the FTA, which represents road haulage and rail freight firms, said: "We've got coal-sector members investigating shifting their coal traffic from rail to road.

"Indicative figures mean there could be an extra 148,000 lorries producing 16,000 tonnes of CO2. How does that fit with Governments' environmental agenda?"

Up to 4000 well-paid jobs – concentrated in rural parts of Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Fife and Dumfries & Galloway – are believed to be at risk as exporting coal from Scotland to England becomes uneconomic.

Philippa Edmunds, manager of the Freight on Rail lobby group, said the move was contrary to government targets to increase the amount of freight transported by rail and could result in "the closure of the Scottish indigenous coal industry in the medium term".

She added: "It could put Scottish miners out of work and lead to higher levels of imported coal. Effectively the ORR plans could export employment in the mining sector from Scotland to Russia."

Despite the widespread closure of deep pits in the 1980s, opencast mining still accounts for 1500 jobs, supports a further 3000 jobs and is thought to be worth more than £450 million to the Scottish economy.

Of the nearly five million tonnes of coal extracted per year in Scotland, about half is exported by rail to power stations in the Aire Valley.

A leading industry source, writing in a trade magazine, said: "(The ORR's) new charge will make much of this trade unviable, possibly from 2016, certainly from 2018, so most, perhaps all, of the mining businesses in Scotland are effectively facing extinction within the next three to five years."

The proposals, which were reported by The Herald last year, were opposed by the Scottish Government.

A spokesman for its agency, Transport Scotland, said: "Our initial representations led to a number of concessions being made by the ORR in their policy statement, including a phased introduction.

"However, we are still disappointed with the ORR's decision to increase track access charges to this extent.

"While the effects of these charges on Scottish markets is still uncertain, we remain concerned that they could have a disproportionate impact on the coal industry and electricity sector in Scotland."

The regulator said the move was necessary to cut the level of subsidy given to the rail freight industry, saying transport firms only pay about a quarter of the £280m to £400m annual bill for using the rail network. The remainder is funded by passengers and taxpayers, it said.

Most, perhaps all, of the mining businesses in Scotland are effectively facing extinction within three to five years

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