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16 October 2014

Arnish Lighthouse

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Transport Issues

A couple of things caught my eye in the local press this week which made me say "Did I really read that?". Yes, I did.

The Freight Transport Association has stated that speedlimits should be reviewed. In a letter to the Stornoway Gazette, it says (among other things) that the 40 mph speedlimit in some parts of the isles is too low. It does not allow engines to run at maximum efficiency, and says that 50 mph is a better limit, if stringently enforced. I rather think that road safety is more important than fuel efficiency. The assertion that the 40 mph limit was introduced to help curb greenhouse gas emissions made me say "What??". To its credit, the FTA also states that limits may have to be reviewed down.

Another "OMG [oh my goodness]" moment came a few pages further in the Gazette. Councillors and hauliers are unhappy with the MV Muirneag. This is the freight ferry, which takes lorries across to and from Ullapool in the middle of the night. Reliability is an issue, apparently. The councillors and hauliers want to replace the Muirneag as well as the Isle of Lewis ferry with one boat.

Well, to my knowledge (and from my position overlooking Stornoway Harbour I've got a fair idea what comes and goes), the Muirneag last had a major problem back in November 2005, during a week punctuated by high winds and technical problems with the normal ferry, MV Isle of Lewis. She has been sailing pretty much on schedule ever since, apart from a few episodes with storms in January.
The Muirneag (and its predecessor, colloquially referred to as "the white elephant") was laid on for the benefit of the hauliers, as well as indirectly for the other users of the Ullapool to Stornoway service. Previously, block bookings meant that space was reserved for lorries on the MV Isle of Lewis, irrespective of whether there were actually vehicles needing to cross. At times of high demand (mid summer), private vehicles had to be turned away, although there might have been physical space on the ferry. To alleviate this problem, the Muirneag was introduced to transfer heavy goods vehicles away from the main ferry service.

I have a better idea than to make a major capital investment like building a new boat. The Skye Bridge was made toll-free early in 2005. The A82 Glasgow to Crianlarich route is being upgraded as we speak. So, why doesn't the haulage for the isles not come up through the A82 / A87 corridor to Uig (Skye) and take the ferry to Harris? The A859 Tarbert to Stornoway is now a two-lane super highway, so there is no real reason not to redirect part of the freight traffic that way. OK, the people down in Skye might not appreciate having heavy lorries trundle down the A87. But if Calmac upgraded the crossing between Uig and Tarbert, or used the MV Hebrides to transfer freight by night, pressure on the Ullapool to Stornoway route might be relieved.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 18:03


Heavy haulage already uses the Uig-Tarbert route, at least there have always been half a dozen or so articulated lorries coming off and going on the ferry whenever I have crossed. What on earth is the benefit of encouraging more lorries to use this route when, I imagine, most of then will end up in Stornoway? Isn't it more sensible for heavy lorries to come off the ferry in Stornoway itself rather than pump out diesel fumes all the way across the island? Additionally If all the heavy haulage were to trundle across the new 'super-highway' it will end up like the M6 having to be resurfaced every 12 months and in the long run it will end up costing more than a new ferry as well as being a constant eyesore. Tourists come to the Western Isles to avoid the roadworks!

Les Ellingham from Stafford

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