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Scottish Government finances timber freight scheme with aim to reduce lorry numbers on A9 and A99


By Gordon Calder

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A timber freight trail is loaded and prepared to leave Georgemas Junction.
A timber freight trail is loaded and prepared to leave Georgemas Junction.

Caithness is playing a key role in a £195,000 project which hopes to show that moving timber by rail is a viable and greener alternative to using roads.

The six-week trial has been financed by the Scottish Government through its Scottish Strategic Rail Freight Fund, and involves transporting the wood from Georgemas Junction, near Thurso, to Inverness.

The project is being operated by Victa Railfreight and involves up to three trains a week taking the timber south. To transport the equivalent wood by road would need around 250 lorries, driving 55,000 miles, according to those behind the initiative, which includes Transport Scotland, Victa Railfreight, Network Rail, Hitrans and Scottish Forestry.

Caithness civic leader Willie Mackay described the six-week trial as "fantastic news" and said: "These heavy duty timber lorries coming of our sometimes treacherous A99 and A9 roads is a blessing. Getting them onto the rail track with thousands of tons of timber being extracted from Caithness is great news instead of adding to the worry of hauling by road." He added that he very much welcomed the involvement of Georgemas Junction in the trial.

Scottish Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing visited Inverness to see the project.

He said: "Timber haulage is a key part of Scotland’s £1 billion industry and a key part of the forestry life cycle. It is important that all opportunities are sought to minimise the environmental and social impact of transporting timber.

"This is an exemplary partnership project and I’m delighted to see this type of collaboration which also supports a sustainable green economic recovery from the current Covid-19 pandemic."

The trains have been operating from Georgemas to the Inverness Millburn Yard for onward delivery to wood processing company Norbord at Dalcross and James Jones at Mosstodloch.

Matthew Thompson of Munro Harvesting (left) discusses the Timber by Rail project with Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing at the Inverness Yard.
Matthew Thompson of Munro Harvesting (left) discusses the Timber by Rail project with Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing at the Inverness Yard.

Once the trial has been completed and assessed, the findings could help shape future policies in how timber is transported to market.

Timber has been supplied from Munro Harvesting and Kelpie Woodlands with Georgemas Energy and Logistics Park providing access to the terminal.

Victa Railfreight is being assisted by DB Cargo for the wagons and West Coast Railway Company for locomotives and drivers.

Meanwhile, Caithness has not been included in a £980,000 scheme to help improve the timber transport road network in the Highlands.

The money has been awarded to Highland Council by the Scottish Government and is co-financed by the Strategic Timber Transport Fund. The money will upgrade minor roads – improving surfaces, widening corners, adding traffic calming measures or providing passing places.

But local activist and former Thurso community councillor, Alexander Glasgow, is unhappy no money has been made available to help Caithness roads which are used by timber lorries. Three roads have been identified in the Highlands but none of them are in the far north.



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