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Scottish timber is back on the rails

TIMBER traffic is returning to Scottish railways this week, after a gap of more than a decade during which all timber was carried by road.

The Scottish Government has allocated £195,000 to Victa Railfreight for a six-week trial of timber trains in the far north of Scotland.

There will be up to three trains a week between Caithness and Inverness, which will be able to carry up to 6,000 tonnes between them.

Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson said: ‘We have worked closely with the timber and rail freight industry to explore opportunities for modal shift and I am delighted to confirm funding for this rail freight trial which will remove around 250 lorries from our busy roads.

‘The trial will help to demonstrate that the movement of timber in Scotland by rail is possible as well as efficient and, it will provide confidence to both the timber and rail freight industries to develop permanent and sustainable solutions to meet market needs.

‘This type of collaboration can support a sustainable green economic recovery from the current health crisis.  It is good news for the timber and rail freight industry, for the Scottish economy and for the environment.’

Victa Railfreight managing director Neil Sime added: ‘Victa is delighted that the Scottish Government has provided substantial funding so that we could bring together rail freight and timber industry partners to enable this collaborative trial of moving timber by rail to happen. We hope that it will lead to further movements of timber by rail across Scotland, providing greener solutions and reducing damage to sensitive rural roads.’

Network Rail is also enthusiastic. Network Rail Scotland’s senior route freight manager Anne MacKenzie said: ‘We are confident that this trial will demonstrate that rail is a viable and environmentally sustainable way to transport timber and are delighted to have worked closely with our rail freight industry partners in supporting this co-operative venture.’

Writing in The Scotsman earlier this year railway consultant and author David Spaven, who is also the Scottish representative on the Rail Freight Group, said: ‘Ironically, Scottish timber still moves by train, but only southwards from a Carlisle railhead, with HGVs feeding in supply by road from wide tracts of forest in the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway.

‘Forests are owned and/or managed by a variety of private and public sector interests, and securing their co-operation to co-ordinate supply – sufficient to fill big trains – can be challenging. But awareness of the climate emergency is adding further pressure to identify rail-based solutions.’

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