An Inverness business involved in a pilot project transporting freight along the Caledonian Canal says the venture will allow them to increase their production during the winter months and reduce haulage on the A82.
A collaboration of research, business and public funding have all played a part in the return of freight shipping along the Caledonian Canal into Inverness. Initially born out of an academic study examining transport on inland waterways the project attracted business interest when it grew into a feasibility study for moving logs in and around Lochaber and through the Great Glen to the Highland capital.
The Great Glen Shipping company was formed in February of this year by six directors including Newcastle University marine engineering graduate Liam Browning. With public support from Transport Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise its six month pilot project will take thousands of log lorries off Highland roads.
Norbord, an international manufacturer of wood-based panels with a production site in Inverness, spotted the opportunities the new business offered. Doug Lamont, the business' wood fibre procurement manager, commented:
"Every run on the canal takes the equivalent of 17 lorry loads of wood off the road. As well as the environmental advantages there is the additional safety benefit of reducing traffic on the A82 - a beautiful tourist route but well known for its accident blackspots.
"Also delivery problems we encountered last year with the weather could now be a thing of the past. If the boat runs every week we can increase production and operate the mill even more efficiently through the winter months."
Great Glen Shipping, based at Corpach in Fort William, masterminded the project which uses a barge, the MV Kanutta, to transport timber from Loch Etive, near Oban, to Inverness via Loch Linnhe and the Caledonian Canal.
Managing Director, Liam Browning, commented: "Re-awakening an almost 200 year old canal to the modern day advantages of freight transport, all with the help of a 52 year old Norwegian owned barge, has been exciting. Once the pilot project proves the commercial viability of the canal and the market for freight transport we hope to expand the types of load we can handle and introduce a series of our own specially designed vessels."
Highlands and Islands Enterprise's Fergus Watson, Business Development Manager, commented: "We are delighted to see the introduction of such an innovative approach to addressing a business need. Supporting this project will also assist in delivering one of HIE's key objectives of delivering a low carbon economy. The Great Glen Shipping Company are to be commended for the project and we wish them and the others involved every success with this pilot."
The project has also opened up the market place to previously hard to access forest land. Neil Stoddart is a senior harvesting manager with Scottish Woodlands.
"One of the challenges for owners and investors in the region's more remote woodland estates is the diminishing returns as the costs of getting the wood to market increase. Waterways can provide a natural solution to this and we have been exploring innovative techniques including new technology like floating piers. This project is a great example of opening up new opportunities for both suppliers and producers in the region and further afield."