scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

Railfreight on the North Line - A rising star? Part 2

In the previous issue Les Turner discussed the background to the re-emergence of railfreight on the North Line. We continue his discussion with three potential traffics of sawlogs and puplwood, perishables and container transhipment.

Sawlogs and pulpwood

The great expansion of planting of the 50s to 70s will shortly lead to the availability of many hundreds of thousands of tonnes per annum from Caithness and Sutherland. The costs of construction of new sawmills makes it unlikely that any will be built in Caithness. This will create an opportunity to move this timber by rail to Nexfor, Dalcross and sawmills at Nairn, Boat of Garten and Elgin. The present rail movement from Kinbrace to Inverness is 20,000 tonnes per annum and that should be viewed in relation to the usage at Nexfor of 600,000 tonnes per annum. There have been press comments in recent years concerning the construction of a pulp mill in the Inner Moray Firth, which would require 500,000 tonnes of timber, and also proposals to construct a wood fired power station. These power stations are presently in operation in Denmark and convert unusable thinnings and branches into wood pellets as a fuel.


A significant factor in the Caithness economy in recent years is the development of the port of Scrabster. The movement of fishing effort to the North West has led to much increased lands particularly by foreign boats. This fish is consigned to processors in Aberdeen, Hull and the fresh market in the continent. In recent years there has been a new development and that is the landing of fish from Faroe and Iceland. Every Saturday night a cargo ship arrives from Faroe with fish for the UK market. This consignment can be 500 tonnes and requires the mobilisation of 20 refrigerated trucks, some from a considerable distance to handle this. The limitation of fishing in the North Sea has meant that there has been a greatly increased flow of white fish through Shetland from Iceland and Faroe in articulated trailers to supply the UK market. It is more cost effective to ship in containers as these can be stacked several levels high. A shuttle container ship to Scrabster as the nearest and low cost port would be commercially attractive. The fish landings give an indication of the potential. The Iceland fish catch for 2002 was 2.127 million tonnes and the Faroese catch 530,000 tonnes to which must be added the farmed salmon catch. Another potential traffic is the output from Orkney Meat which is over 10,000 tonnes and the Orkney salmon and shellfish landings. My vision for 2010 is of an express perishable train leaving Caithness in the late afternoon picking up in Inverness and running through to English markets and the continent.

Container transhipment from Scapa Flow

The loss of manufacturing from Europe and the USA to the Far East has led to a problem of capacity and congestion of existing container ports. There are two Scottish proposals to deal with this, one is the establishment of a new deep water container port on the Clyde at Hunterston and the other is to establish a Northern European transhipment terminal at Scapa Flow. Ships are getting larger and larger with present builds of 12,000 TEUs ( that is 12,000 20ft. container equivalents) The idea is that the economies of the long haul can be gained with the larger ships and feeder ships to smaller ports will allow the large ship to spend more time at sea rather than in congested ports. The North line could have a part in this plan if it comes to fruition. Some of the product will be time sensitive. These can be transferred to barges and delivered to Scrabster for dispatch by train.


As well as the economic and commercial constraints on attracting new traffic to the North line there are a number of physical constraints which must be tackled and this is an area which the Friends can lobby. There are a number of severe speed restrictions north of Invergordon which is apparently due to the track culverts being choked due to neglect of maintenance. Axle loading limits are such that the wagons on the Lairg oil tank train are only 70% full and the Shin viaduct has severe weight restrictions. The North line can only take its place as a main economic artery once these constraints are addressed and rail is put on an equal footing with the trunk road network.