CAITHNESS has its best opportunity to increase rail freight services on the far north line since the end of the Second World War.
That was said by Mark Norton, the convener of Dornoch Link Action Group. He is delighted a rail freight terminal is being built at Georgemas Junction by Direct Rail Services Ltd to transport nuclear material from Dounreay to Sellafield in Cumbria.
The facility could also be used for non-nuclear freight purposes and give a boost to the local economy.
"We are delighted that at long last we are seeing a major opportunity at our end of the line.
"This development represents the best opportunity to this effect in a generation, possibly since the end of the Second World War."
His comments follow DoRLAG’s annual general meeting which was addressed by Andrew Sumner, of Direct Rail Services – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
"It is our firm view that improvements in rail freight traffic, as well as passenger traffic, will increase the commercial and socioeconomic case for improvements in line speed, line capacity, route availability and service reliability.
"All of these will deliver big improvements in passenger and freight rail journey times to and from Caithness and Sutherland, and also service frequency and onward connectivity, which assume major commercial as well as socioeconomic and passenger traffic importance," stated Mr Norton.
He stressed DoRLAG recognises the challenges presented by existing time and capacity constraints on the line for increased passenger and freight traffic but feels the rail freight terminal at Georgemas could help resolve these difficulties.
"The clear national economic and commercial benefits which such a rail improvement would present for the ongoing development of the far north of Scotland to fully exploit the Pentland Firth tidal power schemes, the west of Shetland oil and gas and several commercial opportunities further makes the strong case for major improvements to our line," said Mr Norton.
"It is our fervent belief and hope that this will, along with our recently completed rail users’ survey, set the scene for major upgrades to the far north line, including the Dornoch rail link.
"We look forward to working with Direct Rail Services and we will give them every assistance we can in helping increase rail freight.
"We also wish to show our appreciation to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority for bringing about this important development, which can only help this area’s ongoing economic development."
Meanwhile, Ken Sutherland, of RailFuture Scotland, has hit out at the Scottish Government over what he argues is its backtracking over the planned Perth to Inverness main line upgrading.
He claimed the line is being denied vital infrastructure improvements – double-track sections and passing loops – which have now been deferred indefinitely by the Government.
"Although investment had been earmarked for this essential modernisation/upgrading, it would appear the Scottish Government has siphoned off the required funding to bolster its transport preference for massive road building projects – many of which will simply generate unsustainable and environmentally destructive levels of car commuting.
"It follows a similar pattern of scrapping or downgrading other previously promised rail modernisation and improvements elsewhere in Scotland."