THE first ever sleeper train service from the very far north of Scotland to Edinburgh could allow travellers from Orkney and Caithness to be in the Scottish capital well before breakfast time.

Discussions have taken place with the Caledonian Sleeper about the possibility of establishing the seven-hour service from Thurso via Aberdeen, linked to the Orkney ferry service between Scrabster and Stromness.

The Highland and Islands Strategic Transport Partnership (Hitrans) claimed it could boost the economy of the far north and Orkney and could also be combined with a freight service.

It has commissioned further research from public transport consultants Systra into the feasibility of running such a service to and from Caithness.

A paper to the board entitled “Midnight Train to Georgemas” (Georgemas Junction is where the Far North Line splits for Wick and Thurso) by partnership manager Frank Roach, considers what a Caithness sleeper would provide.

The overnight train would consist of only two sleeping cars and two with seats plus lounge car. It could leave at 7.30pm from Thurso, stopping at Inverness at 11.30pm, Aberdeen two hours later and arriving into the capital at 5.30am.

The return would deport Edinburgh at 11.50pm calling at Aberdeen at 3am, Inverness by 6am and Thurso 10.30am.

Mr Roach said 300,000 people crossed the Pentland Firth to Orkney every year and the population of Caithness and Orkney combined was well over 50,000. But it would not only be the people of the far north who would benefit. Those in the Easter Ross/Inner Moray Firth, Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Inverness would as well.

“Currently Invernessians needing to be in Edinburgh early the next day have a last departure at 20.15 followed by an overnight.,” he said.

“We are talking about quite a large captive population that could access this service.”We are going to get mobile phone data so we can understand how people currently move from Orkney and Caithness to central Scotland. Obviously this would be anonymous but it would give us a handle on the numbers of people moving and how long for.”

He said there could be an opportunity of the necessary rolling stock becoming available. Serco, which also operates the Northlink ferry service to Orkney, held the current 15 year Caledonian Sleeper franchise - the Lowlander serving Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the Highlander serving Aberdeen, Fort William and Inverness.

New stock was under construction in Spain for the Caledonian services. The current Mark Three fleet of sleepers would be redundant in 2018 when the Mark Five vehicles would replace them.

Mr Roach said carrying freight as well was a clear option. Carrying freight on passengers trains has not been done seriously since 1984. “So we are just investigating whether there is potential demand for that.”

Liam McArthur, LibDem MSP for Orkney said: “Any move that improves transport connections to and from the Highlands & Islands is to be welcome. While the detail of the planned sleeper service is still to be worked through, this is certainly a proposal worth investigating further.

“At the same time, however, we are seeing scheduled bus services across the region cut, making connections to and from the islands much more difficult. For those living and working in the region, as well as the many who come to visit, what is needed is better integration across road, rail, ferry and air services.”