Northern Timber Takes To The Rails
Thousands of tonnes of previously inaccessible timber from a forest in northern Scotland will be transported to market by rail in a drive to boost rural employment and revitalise remote woodlands. Scottish Forestry Minister Allan Wilson welcomed the pioneering agreement between the Forestry Commission, The Highland Council and the Highland Rail Development Partnership, Railtrack, timber merchant James Jones & Sons Ltd, local loader Gordon McKenzie and EWS which will unlock 3000 hectares of productive forest - an area roughly the size of Inverness - in Strathnaver.
Over the past two years forestry civil engineers have been working in partnership with The Highland Council to find innovative low cost solutions to the problems of hauling timber on the narrow singletrack section of road between Syre and Kinbrace.
As part of the project a £100,000 loading pad has been constructed alongside the main Inverness/Wick line at Kinbrace, 118 miles north of Inverness, which allows timber to be stockpiled for loading onto timber wagons, a cost far less than the installation of a special siding. The timber is then transported to Inverness during the night while the line is free from passenger trains.
"This scheme was developed with close consultation with partners and the local community," Mr Wilson added. "As well as allowing Strathnaver's timber resource to be unlocked, it is bringing three and a half jobs to the Kinbrace community and will allow the forests in the area to be improved and made more varied and attractive for people and wildlife."
James Jones and Sons, the timber merchants buying the Rosal wood, started harvesting work in early June, and are using local contractor, Gordon McKenzie to both harvest and transport the timber to the railhead at Kinbrace. There will be only one vehicle moving the timber to allow sufficient time for the road to recover from the passage of the heavy load and the lorry will have an on-board weighing system to avoid over loading.
Over the next 20 years an estimated 15,000 tonnes of timber per year will be harvested from forests in Strathnaver, all of which will be moved by train. Each train will carry around 500 tonnes.
The pad at Kinbrace is expected to generate 25-30 trains, consisting of 21 wagons during the first six months but that this will grow to a dedicated shuttle service, taking up to 150 lorry journeys per week off the roads. The timber train will run one week in the month for 5 nights a week between April and September. The timber will go to various destinations, but the first consignment on 14 August was unloaded at Millburn yard in Inverness for local users.
The operation at Kinbrace is something of an innovation in that timber in quantity has not been loaded at the lineside since the 1970s when it was practised on the West Highland line.