scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

Response to the Network Rail Scotland RUS (Generation Two) Consultation

8 November 2010

Scotland RUS (Generation Two)
Network Rail
Buchanan House
58 Port Dundas Road
G4 0LQ

Dear Sirs,

Friends of the Far North Line (FoFNL) was involved in the initial mapping process for RUS2 and is now pleased to submit its comments on the consultative draft prior to attending the meeting in Perth on the 11th. FoFNL keeps a watching brief on all the lines out of the Inverness hub and so these comments will include the lines to Aberdeen and via Perth to Edinburgh and Glasgow.


Option interurban 3.6 Journey times and frequencies Inverness - Central Belt.
The Inverness-Perth (and on to Edinburgh and Glasgow) line, frequency and rolling stock improvements are of crucial importance to tackle the connectivity issues between the City of Inverness and the Central Belt.

It is really good to know that there is a team working on this STPR priority now, but an announcement on what is being included in the initial phase for implementation in December 2011 is worryingly overdue. The First Minister publicly announced in Inverness on 5 August 2008 that the scheme would provide an hourly service taking less than three hours.

The published RUS2 needs to make clear what has been decided by the Tier3 team and what is being promoted through RUS2 for later in CP4 or early CP5. There are a number of questions to be clarified such as the locations for reinstated loops and the power capability of the replacement rolling stock that will be needed.

The expected line speed improvements (RUS1) between Hilton Junction and Ladybank have not yet been completed. This 15 mile long single track section could well turn out to be the Achilles Heel of this initiative. It seems to FoFNL that there is a need for improved junction speeds at Ladybank and Hilton; improved headways from there in to Perth; and maybe for a passing loop at Newburgh. This may be more than you envisage as a Small Projects Fund scheme at 7.3.3?

At the bottom of page 9, the draft RUS2 talks about providing "more seamless end-to-end journeys." This is particularly appropriate for the Inverness-Central Belt trains where some passengers are for/from Glasgow and some to and from Edinburgh. Changing at Perth is a big deterrent at present, especially when it involves the long trek from platform 2 to platform 7. It is important that there are paths in and out of Glasgow Queen Street for additional through Inverness trains. Joining or separating portions at Perth should also be an option to be investigated.

This has a bearing on the rolling stock to be used. Improved inter-city levels of comfort are needed and the original concept in the Room for Growth study of 2006 for end-to-end timings of 2 hours 45 minutes was predicated on the Voyager/Meridian(class 220/221/222) type of train. Internal comfort improvements can be made to suit the route, but the pressing task is to do some timing trials on the route with this type of train.

The current suggestion to replace the East Coast HSTs used for the Highland Chieftain service with a 220/221/222 strengthened by the addition of a pantograph coach for running under the wires south of Edinburgh is another reason to carry out some trials on the HML to see just how this diesel train can perform over the hills. ScotRail and East Coast each have an interest in this.

The use made of the line by freight is likely to increase. Daytime paths are likely to be required to provide desired delivery times, such that the long loop at Ballinluig which the FOCs have requested would seem to be required.

We applaud the sensible idea to provide a diversionary freight route via Aberdeen to Inverness for occasions when the HML is closed for maintenance. (Option network availability 1.1 on p 77). We trust that any issues particularly with gauge clearance between Elgin and Inverness can be overcome and that this facility will be recommended in the final report.

Option inter-urban 3.4 Review of line speeds: Perth
We wholeheartedly agree with option (b) that "Perth station could benefit from a revised layout or differential speeds." Improvements are long overdue to remove the 10mph speed restriction to the north of the station on the HML; to remove the 5mph restriction on accessing Platform 3 from the south; reduce the headways to and from Hilton Junction; and to considerably speed up access from the south on all lines in the vicinity of the signal box. Several minutes could surely be saved by such measures which affect all trains.


Option inter-urban 3.1 Improved journey times and frequencies
The requested Inverness to Aberdeen improvements have been on the table since 1994. Overcrowding on both rail and road has been increasing every year. The economy of Moray is now under threat of very serious difficulties following the Chancellor's autumn statement and announcements concerning an uncertain future for the two air bases. It is important to improve connectivity to enable people affected to find new jobs and therefore it is desirable to bring forward the 2016 completion date of the STPR priority upgrade to the route.

It is good to know that there is a Tier 3 team working on improving the line and its services. The draft RUS does not make it clear whether it favours provision of a new loop between Elgin and Keith. It is encouraging to note that the Tier 3 team work is deemed to be sufficiently advanced such that the RUS authors can confidently say "the final RUS will report on the conclusions of this work." We believe that it is essential that a robust scheme is included in the RUS to permit early implementation of an hourly frequency through service between Inverness and Aberdeen.

Passengers will be encouraged if this hourly frequency is on a regular interval basis. This is more important than achieving journey times of under the two hour barrier. Consistency of journey time is most important. The present timetable where some trains take 2 hours 10 minutes and others take more than two hours 25 minutes is a deterrent to passengers. A consistent two hours three minutes or two hours five minutes would be a great improvement and significantly quicker than the same journey by road. As such with an hourly frequency the railway should be able to attract considerable new passenger traffic.

The RUS2 document does not mention the locally expressed demand for more frequent services in the peak hours between Elgin and Inverness, nor the projected station at Dalcross Airport and associated Park and Ride facility. These ideas have been quite well aired within the A96 Corridor Working Group and, we presume, are being worked on by the Tier 3 team.

Increased passenger and freight services would also benefit from reinstated double tracking between Inverness Raigmore Interchange Tunnel East and Dalcross Airport new station, and between Kittybrewster and Raiths Farm Freight Terminal. Enhanced gauge clearance between Elgin and Inverness will presumably be needed to permit the line to be used as a diversionary route for HML freight. (Option network availability 1.1 on p 77). That would also permit a valuable diversionary route for Aberdeen's freight trains should the line south of Aberdeen be blocked.

Option inter-urban 2.3 Additional services between Dyce and Aberdeen
We note that this option states that "the single line between the two stations means that there are no available paths." We understand the constraints imposed by the cutting and tunnel approaches to Aberdeen, but we are surprised that the idea of starting the double track at Kittybrewster and continuing it out to Dyce (or Raith's Farm) is not mentioned. A double track section here would be of benefit not just to Dyce trains but to all trains including those to and from Inverurie and Inverness particularly at peak times. Perhaps this could be looked at again in this context?

Option inter-urban 2.5 Create Aberdeen north bay platform
This seems to be a very good idea. Our concern would be that there is adequate passenger access provided over the tracks to the main concourse whether by ramps or by lifts.


Option inter-urban 2.1 Additional evening peak service between Inverness and Dingwall
Your conclusion (of a BCR of 0.8) is a disappointment to us as we are aware of the constraints on commuters going home northwards from Inverness in the evenings. There is a choice of three trains inbound in the mornings with Inverness arrivals before 09.00. Currently there are only the two peak hour trains back at 17.15 and 17.52. Significantly there are long gaps in service both before and after these services and this really constrains commuter choice deterring many potential passengers. When you consider that these are the only northbound trains for a period of six and a half hours between 14.39 and 21.09 this is quite obviously unsatisfactory.

There is a temporary factor which is also highly significant. The major repairs to the A9 Kessock Bridge scheduled to take six months and commence some time after March 2012 will cause huge disruption. One of the remedies being considered is more and longer trains on the FNL. To be really useful it will be essential to improve service frequency during that long six and a half hours. An extra service at 18.15(or 18.30) and another at 15.50 would be a minimum requirement. The lack of a passing loop in the Lentran area (to break up the 20 minute long section from Inverness to Muir of Ord) is a huge impediment to increased frequencies with the present timetable.

FoFNL (with help from former BR General Managers) has extensively studied this issue and come up with a new timetable which would permit an approximately hourly service all day long between Inverness and Tain as well as maintaining current levels of service to Wick and Kyle. This is currently being financially assessed by Transport Scotland and we await their findings with interest. We hope it might provide a real step change for rail passengers north of Inverness. See Appendix.

Option rural 2.1 Upgrade Bunchrew level crossing (AOCL)
FoFNL is pleased that you carried out an appraisal of the possible conversion of Bunchrew LX from AOCL to ABCL. We note that you considered that this would provide a pointer to similar appraisals for the many other AOCLs on the FNL. We understand that line of thinking but we do not agree that it presents a watertight case for or against upgrading the others because there will always be special circumstances in each case and each should be treated on its own merits.

You will be aware that this issue has become highly political because of a number of incidents in recent years. We trust that you are also aware of two consultancy reports which have been received by Hitrans in the past year. FoFNL believes that it would be highly desirable to carry out upgrading of some of the many LXs on the line in order to improve end to end journey times.

The slow journey times is the biggest issue for the FNL and all parties are agreed that it should be addressed where possible. Additional issues like the constraints of the RETB signalling system and the extremely slow speed restrictions at all loop points are part of this mix and do not seem to have been considered in the RUS2. On level crossings, FoFNL believes that the restrictions over the LXs at Bunchrew and at Delny are currently the most serious barriers to reducing journey times between Inverness and Tain. Bunchrew affects Kyle Line services also.

We would therefore like to see the Bunchrew and Delny crossings upgraded in the near future. We would suggest that if the service to passengers is improved by increasing the service frequency along the lines we have suggested to Transport Scotland, the rail user benefits and consequently the BCR you have suggested for Bunchrew will be much higher. See Appendix.


FoFNL believes that it was right to review the whole RUS again as there have been many changes to circumstances in the short time since the last was published. We are pleased too that this time the whole of Scotland (apart from the Anglo-Scottish routes) was included.

The exercise has shown how constrained are all the different lines in the Highlands by long stretches of single track railway with infrequent (sometimes very infrequent) passing loops. We would like to see this addressed in the longer term by a continuing rolling programme of doubling in one form or another. We trust that this will now begin with reinstated infrastructure on both the HML and the Inverness-Aberdeen Line in order to fulfil the Scottish Government's STPR programme and provide the step change of hourly passenger services on both these lines in to Inverness. That in turn will make it easier to provide connections with the FNL.

Accordingly we should like to see RUS2 and the Tier 3 teams specify

We look forward to discussing any of these points with you.

Yours faithfully,

John Brandon
Richard Ardern


6.7.4 Improved Journey Times by Conversion of Level Crossings
Assessment of Option Rural 2.1 - upgrade Bunchrew AOCL
The assessment assumes "steady state". Improvements in the frequency of train services north of Inverness have already shown that there was latent demand. The Friends of the Far North Line believes that there is still unfulfilled demand to be satisfied and has proposed further improvements which would result in an approximately hourly frequency between Inverness and Tain. With existing infrastructure, such a service requires three trains in circuit. In addition to this, in order to fit in freight and charters and additional peak hour services between Inverness and Dingwall, it is necessary to adjust the timings and calling patterns of the hourly service such that there is no standard hour possible. Upgrade of Bunchrew is a vital part of reducing journey times. This would enable the train service to be truly hourly and to call at all stations. More importantly, if the journey time between Inverness and Tain were reduced to around 55 - 57 minutes, only two trains would be required in circuit, thus producing substantial operating savings. The upgrade of Bunchrew (and of Delny) is a vital part of this aspiration and potential savings seem to have been ignored in the assessment.

6.6.4 Peak Capacity at Inverness
Option inter-urban 2.1 - additional evening peak service between Inverness and Dingwall
The RUS tests the option of providing an additional evening peak train from Inverness to Dingwall. We do not believe your operational analysis is correct. Operating an additional evening peak service does not require any additional diagrammed rolling stock or train crew resources. At a high level, providing an additional post 1800 Inverness departure can be achieved by operating the existing 1754 Inverness to Wick & Kyle of Lochalsh as two separate trains, as was the case before the December 2008 timetable change. A 2-car train currently provides sufficient capacity on the 1754 now that the earlier peak train at 1703 has been retimed to 1715.

We believe that a service of three trains at 17.15, 17.54 and 18.15 or slightly later would more closely match the morning peak service, provide greater flexibility for commuters and thus increase carryings both morning and evening.

With this arrangement, the additional operating costs would be much less than you suggest and consequently the BCR would be sufficiently positive. We would be grateful if you could reappraise this along the lines we suggest. Thank you.

We have taken the opportunity of submitting a further response which has been posted on the website .