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

EWS - Rail Freight on The Far North Line

The Far North Line plays an important role in the rail freight operations of EWS. This role will increase in coming years as demand for rail freight in the Highlands continues to grow.

Over recent years, EWS has won new business to the Far North Line. Daily trains heading north and south haul goods for Safeway, pipes, building materials and freezers. Additional services is something EWS pursues on the Far North Line and it believes that significant growth will occur on the line in the coming few years.

This can be realised once certain key national decisions which will affect this growth are taken.

An imminent decision by the Rail Regulator will effectively make or break the rail freight growth opportunities on the Far North Line; a decision on whether to reduce by at least 50% the charge paid to Railtrack - the track access charge - for the use of the network.

Without such a reduction, a key cornerstone of the Government and Scottish Executive's ten-year transport plan to increase freight on rail by at least 80%, and by doing so reduce road congestion, is at risk. Rail freight track access charges currently account for around 40% of the cost of running a freight train. Such a fixed cost continuing will not provide the immediate potential to grow rail freight; track access charges are cited most often by businesses as reason why they are unable to commit to rail freight no matter how interested they are. The Far North Line is a route which will make significant gains in terms of rail volumes once track access charges are reduced, as the economics of rail freight improve for both short and long-haul movements.

Such a reduction will offset the 20% reduction in road costs created by the Government introduction of heavier lorries, reduced Vehicle Excise Duty and the standstill on fuel duty. If track access charges are not reduced then the simple fact is that rail freight will not grow, the road network will become more congested and the air more polluted. If one act is required in order to secure the movement of rail freight on the Far North Line, then it is a reduction in the rail freight track access charge.

The recent launch of the new parcels train to Inverness, while not operating on the Far North Line, is an example of future markets which will need to be exploited in order to ensure that rail freight grows. In the long term, if markets are viable, then consideration can be given to providing an "express" service on the Far North Line in addition to the existing daily Enterprise trains. This, and other new types of traffic, are being pursued by EWS.

The Far North Line is part of the national network and issues affecting the running of trains in other parts of Britain, in turn, affect the Far North Line. While access and train pathing is not an issue on the Far North Line, access to other points of the network are. The pressure for night-time maintenance, renewal and closure of the network reduces the value of the railway to Great Britain plc. Unless the railway can offer trains operating at any time in a 24-hour day to the business community, a proportion of freight going by the road network will not be transferred to rail. In order to meet the Government's growth target for rail freight, a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week railway is required.

This requires a balance to be struck between the understandable need to maintain a railway and to provide round-the-clock access that the road network offers HGVs. There needs to be a balance of weekday, weeknight and weekend track work to ensure that maintenance is achieved, but not by shutting the railway down at night when freight trains tend to require access. By doing so, the railway will fulfil its role as Britain's alternative road network, which will also enhance rail freight opportunities on the Far North Line.

Continued investment and development of the Far North Line is essential. EWS, with Railtrack, are pursuing the feasibility of the line from Georgemas Junction to Thurso being cleared for the operation of the Class 66 locomotive, which currently only operates as far as Georgemas. This will enable direct operations into Thurso for customers. Opportunities for timber loading at Kinbrace and Lairg will enable a significant number of trucks being removed from the road network in the Highlands. EWS continues to encourage Railtrack to invest in its infrastructure and improve linespeeds.

In terms of imminent future new traffic, oil will return to the Far North Line later this year with a weekly movement for BP by EWS from Grangemouth to Lairg.

Any queries on EWS developments on the Far North Line can be referred to: Graham Meiklejohn, EWS Media and Public Affairs Manager, 310 Goswell Road, London, EC1V 7LW. Telephone - 020 7713 2486
Freight Timetable 2001
Train Dep. Days From To Arr. Customer Comments
4H44 01.00 EWD Mossend Euro Georgemas Jn 09.45 Safeway Inverness yard 05.01-05.18
4D66 14.45 SX Georgemas Jn Mossend Up Rec 00.06 Safeway Inverness yard 19.05-19.45
4H46 14.45 SO Georgemas Jn Inverness yard 19.05 Safeway  
4D68 19.44 Sun Inverness yard Mossend Up Rec 00.01 Safeway