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The following article appeared in the Press and Journal 24.7.99 written by Clive Dennier.
Supermarket giant Safeway plan to extend its rail freight service to Caithness, later this year, it was revealed yesterday. The firm, which also hopes to move freight to Aberdeen by rail, is also considering providing a freight service for food producers in the Highlands.
A team from Safeway was in Inverness yesterday to look at the new rail-freight service from Glasgow to its Inverness area stores. The scheme, which was launched a fortnight ago by Sara Boyack, the Scottish Minister for Transport and the Environment, will cut 5,000 lorry journeys between Glasgow and Inverness.
Backed by Government funding of £680,000, the new operation serves 5 Safeway outlets in Inverness area and substantially reduces the number of the company's 32 tonne capacity trucks travelling on the A9.
Lawrence Christensen, Safeway's logistics director, said: "We want to extend the scheme to the North of Scotland and use it as a way of getting our products to Orkney. "We will go to Georgemas Junction in Caithness which will allow us to serve our Wick and Thurso stores and via the ferry to our supermarket in Kirkwall."
Mr Christensen said the firm was still ironing out final details with the Scottish Office, but it was hoped the scheme could start later this year. If it goes ahead it would save 936 journeys a year.
Mr Christensen said that in the longer term it was proposed to extend the service to its four stores in Aberdeen area although that would be subject to the equipment being available and to train times. "Ultimately we would aim to send most of our freight to Scottish stores by rail, " said Safeway's logistics technical controller David Timson.
Mr Christensen said that Safeway had received a "great deal of interest" in using the wagons, once they had delivered their Safeway produce, to send local bakery and fish products and dairy produce south. He said that such a service would make small local firms more competitive because their produce would be cheaper to transport. Mr. Christensen said: "The stuff could come into our distribution depot at Bellshill and could then be redistributed to our stores and who's to say we wouldn't do it for our competitors."
Safeway believes that not only would rail freight be much better for the environment but it would help stop traffic congestion on the A9 and other roads. "Our service to stores is starting to be affected by road congestion," Mr Christensen explained.
David Green, director general of the Freight Train Association said the UK's transport problems could be solved with the help of rail freight. Mr Green added: "This is a big day for rail freight, it demonstrates what can be achieved and what the opportunities are."