Far north rail freight service back on track for delayed trial run
Transport: Attempt to prove benefits over road haulage
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”