THE Scottish Government’s Programme for Government earlier this month promised to “electrify” the A9 between Perth and Inverness for road vehicles. The plan was widely welcomed.

But there were no similar promises for the Highland main line. It is single track for much of its length, and the passing places are only long enough for freight trains of 300 metres.

Elsewhere in the country, freight trains are 500 or more metres long on much of the rest of the network. That clearly inhibits the potential for rail freight, as do slow journey times.

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Ministers are aware of these problems and say they want to significantly boost rail freight by 7.5 per cent by 2024. They know that rail freight could make an important contribution to slowing climate change, as it produces 76 per cent less carbon pollution than road haulage.

A few companies have shown that it can be done. Tesco, in partnership with Eddie Stobart, transports 20 boxes of supplies six days a week by rail to Inverness.

All the more puzzling, then, that ministers seem to have a blind spot when it comes to improving the A9. As we report today, an expert study they commissioned concluded that the £3 billion plan to dual 80 miles of single carriageway between Perth and Inverness would “dampen” prospects for shifting freight from road to rail.

This really is no more than common sense. But instead of looking into how to rectify the imbalance, and reviewing road versus rail spending, they simply decided not to publish the study.

This is not good enough. Ministers often say the right things about increasing rail freight, but little actually happens on the ground. It’s time they got on track.