08/09/2015 - Project examines feasibility of railing windblown timber from Flow Country
Talks are under way to investigate the feasibility of making much greater use of rail to transport the estimated 4 million tonnes of standing and fallen timber from the Flow Country in the North of Scotland to processing markets in the south via Inverness.
Branchliner is an initiative being driven by HITRANS, the regional transport partnership for the Highlands and Islands, with the aim of helping the industry harvest the timber while it has value, and at the same time keeping heavy lorries off the fragile road network by transporting the timber closer to markets by rail.
Upgrades of railway sidings at Kinbrace in Sutherland and Inverness are key elements of the project.
HITRANS will bring together a high level strategic group to establish the importance of the issues at stake – the environmental peatland interest, the economic timber interest and the critical infrastructure constraints – and to ensure there is commitment to finding a viable solution.
The group will provide direction to a range of consultants who will be engaged to carry out an environmental assessment, which will put a value on the shift from road to rail for the transportation of the timber.
The Strategic Timber Transport Scheme and Forestry Commission Scotland have assisted with funding for the investigative study.
Councillor James Stockan, Chairman of HITRANS, said: “This project is important in generating economic benefits for the North of Scotland and over the next few months we will be working hard to take this exciting project forward. A key factor will be reducing the impact on the fragile road network in rural North Sutherland and Caithness and maximising rail transport.”
Frank Roach, HITRANS Partnership Manager, told a recent meeting of HITRANS, that timber, standing and windblown, has is a resource of great value when transported to the Inner Moray Firth for processing.
Mr Roach said: “Over the next 10-15 years the timber industry needs to transport 4 million tonnes of timber from the wider Flow Country catchment to distant markets. This will have consequences for the fragile public road network, the environment and the neighbouring communities. The carrying capacity of the road network is a major constraint. The Highland Timber Transport Group’s Flow Country Strategy 2014-16 highlights the still unrealised potential for rail to play a part.
“An investigative study is a first phase which, if it proves positive, will lead towards a demonstrator project that will trial timber deliveries by rail. The consultants will gather existing knowledge and experience of timber transport by rail in the UK to see how it can be best applied to the Far North Line. They will establish gaps in knowledge and understanding of physical, cost, logistical, environmental and community issues and, where necessary, commission consultancy services to fill these gaps.”
Landward Caithness Councillor and Depute Chair of The Highland Council’s Planning, Development and Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Matthew Reiss said: “The increasing profile and importance of the unique Flow Country is a good news story for Caithness and Sutherland. Extracting the huge quantities of timber by the most cost effective and environmentally sensitive methods is not just common sense but also what local people will wish. The inadequate roads were not designed for prolonged heavy use and it is very much hoped that the existing railway will prove to be the best option not just on economic grounds but also for safety reasons, carbon reduction and reducing inconvenience to road users throughout the area.”