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Rail freight plan to take 400 timber lorries off Caithness roads


By Iain Grant

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Timber being loaded onto carriages at Georgemas. A new scheme could see the same happening at Altnabreac.
Timber being loaded onto carriages at Georgemas. A new scheme could see the same happening at Altnabreac.

A move which could see 400 lorryloads of timber transferred to the railways is being planned.

A consortium of private firms and public agencies is behind a move to establish a railside loading bay at Altnabreac to haul timber south.

A trial involving 10,000 tonnes is planned with a view to establishing the runs on an ongoing basis.

Caledonia Forest Land Investment Ltd, which has a number of plantations in the area, is working on the venture with HiTrans and Scottish Woodlands.

HiTrans manager Frank Roach said it was waiting on the outcome of a planning application for the loading bay.

It has appointed Dornoch-based Arvikaconsult to design the facility at the remote Caithness station.

The plan is for specialist low-ground pressure haulage vehicles to transport the timber from the forest to the loading bay where it will be stacked before being uplifted on to specialist rail wagons.

A freight operator is being lined up to run three trains per week to Inverness on slots which do not interfere with existing operations on the far north line.

Mr Roach said the intention is to launch the trial early next year.

It is expected that a contribution will be sought from the Scottish Government's fund earmarked to promote rail freight.

Frank Roach of HiTrans at Inverness railway station. Picture: Gary Anthony
Frank Roach of HiTrans at Inverness railway station. Picture: Gary Anthony

Mr Roach said the scheme would involve 25 rail trips instead of the 400 lorryloads by the established road route.

This has seen forest trucks rumble over the unclassified stretch between Strathmore and Westerdale and then the B870 to Spittal before joining the A9.

Mr Roach said: "Rail freight fits well into the decarbonisation agenda and also reduces wear and tear on the road network.

"There is a lot of timber to come from this area and if we can demonstrate the efficiency of this, then it will hopefully persuade others to move ever greater volumes by rail."

Were the demo to succeed, the consortium would look to extend the loading bay to enable larger-scale movements.

The latest venture follows a six-week trial in the autumn of 2020 when 6000 tonnes of timber harvested from the Brawlbin plantation, near Loch Calder, was hauled from Georgemas Station to Inverness.

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