Far north rail freight ser­vice back on track for de­layed trial run

Trans­port: At­tempt to prove ben­e­fits over road haulage

The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) - - NEWS -

Hopes for a re­sump­tion of reg­u­lar freight traf­fic on the north­ern­most stretch of the rail net­work are be­ing boosted with a trial run later this month.

Very few com­mer­cial loads have been hauled ei­ther into or out of Caith­ness since a burst of ac­tiv­ity in the 1990s when the freight arm of for­mer freezer man­u­fac­tur­ers Nor­frost es­tab­lished a ter­mi­nal at Ge­orge­mas Junc­tion.

Con­sign­ments of tim­ber were also moved south by rail fol­low­ing the cre­ation of a rail­side load­ing bay near Kin­brace in 2002.

But the trade fiz­zled out and at present, there is very lit­tle ac­tiv­ity apart from the ir­reg­u­lar haulage of oil pipe­line com­po­nents bound for Sub­sea 7’s base north of Wick.

Rail freight pro­mot­ers were en­cour­aged by the com­mis­sion­ing of a £3.1 mil­lion rail­head at Ge­orge­mas in 2012 to ser­vice the move­ment of spent fuel from Doun­reay to Carlisle en route to the re­pro­cess­ing plant at Sel­lafield in west Cum­bria.

The 42ft gantry has the ca­pac­ity to carry 110 tonnes and op­er­a­tor Di­rect Rail Ser­vices (DRS) has from the out­set said it was keen to use it for other loads out­with the nu­clear sec­tor.

It had hoped to do the trial run last sum­mer, only to have its plans de­layed by tech­ni­cal grem­lins in­volv­ing the mech­a­nism re­quired to load and off­load containers.

The com­pany is now ready and is gear­ing up to stage the re­turn trial run on July 18. The load will in­clude a con­sign­ment from Tesco sup­ply­ing its stores in Thurso and Wick, as well as other goods.

The trial is be­ing backed by Hi­trans, the High­lands strate­gic trans­port part­ner­ship.

Part­ner­ship man­ager Frank Roach yes­ter­day: “This is an ex­per­i­ment to see how the kit at Ge­orge­mas works. We need to see how long it takes to load and un­load the containers and demon­strate that it can work smoothly.

“Rail freight is all about get­ting the vol­umes right to prove the ben­e­fits over road haulage.”

Mr Roach said con­tainer traf­fic is fu­elling a sharp rise in rail freight in other parts of the coun­try.

He be­lieved it is key to help­ing trig­ger a resur­gence in freight traf­fic on the Far North Line.

DRS has had talks with rail op­er­a­tors Abel­lio and Trans­port Scot­land about in­vest­ments in the line to pro­mote more rail freight.

The haulier has a con­tract to run the nu­clear con­sign­ments un­til the early 2020s but its lease of the Ge­orge­mas rail­head runs un­til 2032.

“This is an ex­per­i­ment to see how the kit works”

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