A scheme that might see 400 lorryloads of lumber transported to the trains is in the works. A group of private companies and government agencies is working to build a railside loading terminal at Altnabreac to transport timber south.
A 10,000-tonne trial is being prepared with the goal of establishing the runs on a long-term basis.
HiTrans and Scottish Woodlands are collaborating on the project alongside Caledonia Forest Land Investment Ltd, which owns a number of plantations in the area.
HiTrans manager Frank Roach said the company was awaiting the outcome of a loading bay planning application. Arvikaconsult, based in Dornoch, has been tasked with designing the facilities at the isolated Caithness station.
The timber will be transported from the forest to the loading dock, where it will be stacked before being loaded into specialty rail carriages using low-ground pressure hauling equipment.
A freight operator is being lined up to run three trains per week to Inverness on slots that do not conflict with the far north line’s present operations.
Mr. Roach stated that the trial will begin early next year.
It is believed that a contribution from the Scottish Government’s rail freight promotion fund will be sought. Mr Roach stated that the proposal would entail 25 rail trips rather than the 400 lorryloads that the existing road route would entail.
Forest trucks have been rumbling through the unclassified section between Strathmore and Westerdale, as well as the B870 to Spittal before reaching the A9.
“Rail freight fits nicely with the decarbonisation strategy, and it also reduces wear and tear on the road network,” Mr Roach explained.
“There’s a lot of lumber coming out of this area, and if we can show how efficient it is, it will perhaps inspire others to transport even more volume by rail.”
If the demonstration is a success, the partnership plans to expand the loading dock to accommodate larger-scale movements.
Following a six-week experiment in the autumn of 2020, when 6000 tonnes of timber collected from the Brawlbin plantation near Loch Calder was transported from Georgemas Station to Inverness, the latest enterprise was launched.