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MeyGen could power battery trains in Caithness

By Gordon Calder

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ELECTRICITY produced at the MeyGen tidal energy scheme in the Pentland Firth could be used to power an experimental battery-operated train between Wick and Thurso.

That is the hope of rail campaign group Friends of the Far North Line (FoFNL) which claims Caithness would be a good place to test the technology.

The proposal has the support of HiTrans – the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership – and rolling stock manufacturer Vivarail, which produces new trains from ex-District Line stock from London. The original electric motors and bodyshells are kept, a modular power supply system is installed and the interiors are redesigned to meet operators' requirements.

Electricty from MeyGen could power trains between Wick and Thurso
Electricty from MeyGen could power trains between Wick and Thurso

FoFNL, which wants to see more traffic on the far north rail line, thinks the scheme "ticks many boxes", although it is still in the very early stages.

Mike Lunan, a committee member and former convener of the group, thinks Caithness would be "admirably suited" for such a test.

As the journey between Wick and Thurso is just over 20 miles, he said, the train could make a return trip before needing the battery to be recharged.

Mr Lunan, who lives in Thurso, said there is a surplus of energy being created in the far north and it could be feasible to use electricity from the MeyGen scheme to power the battery-operated train. The idea was mooted at the FoFNL annual general meeting.

He said funding for the three-year trial could come from Transport Scotland and would not be "a huge amount of money" in railway terms.

ScotRail could also be interested in the experiment as it is keen to phase out diesel trains on some branch lines. It would not be economic to electrify them but an alternative could be to use battery power.

Mr Lunan said a charging point could be set up at Wick station and thinks the battery-powered trains would provide passengers with a faster and more comfortable journey. "It would also provide another form of public transport between the two towns which has the potential to be more attractive to people," he said.

It would offer an alternative to the bus service and would be ideal for people with hospital appointments at Caithness General as the hospital is close to Wick station.

However, it is not yet known how much the trial would cost or when it may get under way.

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