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

Freight RUS Consultation Response

Friends of the Far North Line (FoFNL), established in 1994, has 200 members and supports the railway line from Inverness to Thurso and Wick. This line is dependent on, and integrated with, feeder rail services from Perth and Aberdeen to Inverness and, (in the absence of other rail groups for these lines), FoFNL does considerable work in support of these lines also.

Brief summary of FoFNL proposals

The nature of the Highland lines is one of single track sections of varying lengths broken by passing loops which also vary in length. On the Far North Line (FNL) these single track sections can be up to 25 miles long and cause some operating headaches. The line is RA10 as far as Invergordon and RA5 thereafter. Gauge is W8 from Perth to Wick and W7 from Aberdeen to Inverness and on the short branch to Thurso.

A mixture of freight traffic is on offer, all of which currently uses the Highland Main Line (HML) from Perth to Inverness. There is a daily parcels train and weekly cement and oils trains, the oils continuing to Lairg on the FNL. The Safeway groceries train was discontinued when that company was taken over. It conveyed containers to Inverness and to Georgemas Junction (near Thurso on the FNL). It is hoped that a similar train will start running soon for Tesco as far as Inverness. The Caithness Transport Forum are trying to persuade their local supermarkets to jointly support the reinstatement of the Georgemas train. Other traffic in the past five years has included timber, mineral water, oil pipes, and rock salt. All these traffics have been dependent on changes in consignee policies and ownership and on the flair of the rail freight companies. There is plenty of potential for these and other traffics to move by rail to and from the Highlands.

The gauge enhancement currently under way from Mossend to Elgin via Aberdeen could usefully be extended to the additional 37 miles to Inverness. This would provide a diversionary route for at least some of the traffic at times of perturbation. There is always the danger that if the line south from Aberdeen is blocked and freight has to go by road that the contracts might be permanently lost to road.

An expansion of passenger traffic on the Aberdeen to Inverness line is currently being considered. It would seem sensible for freight interests and passenger interests to combine to enable the redoubling of 6 miles of the line from Kittybrewster (Aberdeen) to the new freight terminal being constructed at Raiths Farm just beyond Dyce. That section is currently near capacity during the day such that the flexibility of double track is urgently needed.

Similarly at the Inverness end, new passenger services are being planned between Inverness and Elgin and a reinstated section of 7 miles of double track from Inverness to Dalcross would improve operating efficiency. This section passes the large wood factory at Morayhill where a timber siding is being talked about. Morayhill has taken railborne timber from Kinbrace on the FNL in the past few years, but the current need to tranship to road at Inverness is threatening the viability of such traffic by rail. A siding is needed.

On the FNL, the very-deepwater port of Invergordon has been very successful in attracting visits from cruise liners, including the largest currently afloat. It is currently the subject of proposals to develop it as a container port. This could include the landfall for the proposed international container transhipment port in Scapa Flow (Orkney). Loading sidings could be relaid at Invergordon and at nearby Highland Deephaven (Evanton). It would seem wise to keep in mind the idea of extending the gauge enhancement from Inverness to Invergordon. Coal has already been successfully railborne from Invergordon.

North of Invergordon, it would be useful to strengthen the Shin Viaduct such that fully loaded tank wagons can be used on the oil tank train to Lairg. The A9 road in Caithness is very treacherous with steep gradients and tight hairpin bends particularly at the Berriedale Braes. On safety grounds it would be desirable to transfer the Caithness gas traffic from road tankers to rail.

The current discussions in Inverness to provide terminal capacity for all freight operators are crucial to the upsurge in rail freight which is eminently practicable. Network Rail must ensure that access is facilitated and that building work is not allowed to encroach on track, siding and terminal land which will be required for railfreight use both in the next few years and in the longer 20 year framework when oil economics and supply are likely to require exponentially greater use of railfreight.

This retention of useable land for railfreight terminals applies throughout the area. One immediate new use could be for the transfer of waste to landfill sites. The past few years have seen a mushrooming of huge high sided waste transporters on the roads. It would be sensible if there were some presumption that this traffic would normally go by rail wherever possible.

On the Highland Main Line, the Scott Wilson Room for Growth (R4G) report has been looking at major improvements to the passenger services between Inverness and Perth for Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is expected that some of the R4G recommendations will be taken forward in the Scotland RUS. We trust that work on the freight RUS will be integrated with this.

Particular recommendations are the reinstatement of loops at Ballinluig and Newtonmore (or Etteridge) for passenger purposes and to facilitate daytime freight paths. The length of these loops would be of critical importance to freight operators especially if longer freight trains are to be run.

Scott Wilson have also suggested that the HML gauge could be increased to W9 with some work to bridges and on the tunnel at Inver. To upgrade to W10 would be more difficult and it is recognised that even work on just the one tunnel could be problematic.

In conclusion, FoFNL considers that all the Highland Lines have a major freight potential for three reasons. The distances from supplier to market tends to be greater (in both directions) which favours rail over road. Many of the products coming from the area such as timber, stone and aggregates tend to be heavy and bulky and thus more suited to rail than road. Finally, oil will have to be husbanded much more carefully in future years and long distance rail transport will use significantly less fuel. It is therefore most important that on a railway system with single track capacity constraints, the ability exists to swiftly provide increased capacity for new and increased flows of railfreight.

23 November 2006