Potential Highland Freight
The following notes were taken at HiTrans' annual freight forum, which was held at the Laichmoray Hotel, Maisondieu Road, Elgin, on Tuesday 17 May 2011.
Christopher Paterson, of the MVA Consultancy, gave an impressive presentation on their Whisky Logistics Study. There is more to whisky-making than one would think. There are lots of raw materials, by-products and finished products to be transported about. Elgin is seen as the most viable concentration point for the traffic but once on a lorry it tends to stay on a lorry, despite them being too big for the roads such as the A95. Daily flows of whisky-related HGVs have been mapped. However, although the industry is willing to look at more environmentally friendly transport, the impression was given that, unless there is a big financial carrot, nothing will happen. The full report can be found at www.hitrans.org.uk/Documents/Whisky_Logistics_Study.pdf .
Dan Cathcart, of AECOM, gave an interesting account of recent developments following a timber transport scoping study, mentioning shipping from Argyll to Ayrshire, and a reduced lorry-tyre pressure system now developed that could have prevented a lot of the road damage around Kinbrace. A huge new demand from Balcas has doubled timber prices. There are two million tons of maturing timber in the Flow Country, and a biomass power plant has been proposed at Georgemas to use it. (Balcas, at Invergordon, the biggest wood pellet plant in Britain, opened in July 2010 and produces 100 000 tons per year. It also generates electricity. An article in the energy supplement of the Press & Journal on 16 May 2011, headed "Balcas's hunger fuels feedstock wood prices - and controversy," reported that the price had jumped from £18 to £30 per tonne at the factory gate and that small merchants felt they were being being squeezed out, with even Norbord complaining. An Invershin resident was quoted as saying that "the convoys of timber lorries coming through here are unbelievable.")
With respect to the transport of roundwood by rail, Douglas Binns, of Douglas Binns Ltd, spoke of a study of eight possible loading points between Helmsdale and Altnabreac. These include lineside loading points at Torrish alongside the forest (with an estimated cost of £25 000), Borrobol, and Altnabreac (an option that could cost £0.5M). A site at Craggieward would require a 75m - 18m hardstanding area to be constructed. The former sidings at Borrobol could be re-laid but they are a mile from the forest. Similarly the existing permanent way engineer's sidings at Forsinard could be used, perhaps with a light railway into the forest. A 370m-long siding, which would hold 23 OTA timber-carrying wagons, could be built opposite the platform at Altnabreac but would cost £1.6M. Another site has been identified at Auchentoul, north of Kinbrace. Against all these, there are the constraints inherent in the Far North Line of gradients on which wagons being loaded could run away, weight restrictions on bridges, and level crossings (for example, trains cannot be shunted across the one at Kinbrace). Lineside loading would have to take place at night and any new or improved sidings at Altnabreac or Forsinard would have to be properly signalled; would Network Rail be happy? (On this subject, the 2010 Hitrans railfreight capability study on www.highlandrailfreight.com is worth studying, particularly for Far North Line constraints.)