New Timetable, December 2005
The major timetable change is the new 'Invernet' service providing peak commuter services from both Kingussie and Lairg to Inverness and an enhanced off-peak service between Inverness and Tain, this has been a long term aspiration of FoFNL and Highland Rail Partnership (HRP) working together with First ScotRail, the Scottish Executive and other local stakeholders.
In 1998, FoFNL celebrated the introduction of a new Dingwall to Inverness commuter train. This was a successful service and having been extended to start back from Tain, and operate 6 days a week, has become extremely popular! Through a further extension back from Lairg, many new journey opportunities have now been created for Lairg loop communities and passengers from Invershin, Culrain and Ardgay.
One additional class 158 train (unit) has been diagrammed for the new timetable, operated by an additional train crew at Inverness. The morning Kingussie service operates at different times Monday to Friday (SX) and Saturday (SO) due to pathing and different timings of the Sleeper service. It departs Kingussie 0703 SX and 0738 SO arriving in Inverness at 0805 SX and 0836 SO. Whilst there is no additional evening return working from Inverness, passengers can travel on existing services departing Inverness at 1655 and 1831. It is a commercial aspiration to stop the 1655 service at Carrbridge, but any earlier departure time from Inverness would sever connections from the Wick/Thurso service arrival in Inverness at 1649. It is a further aspiration for an additional service to be for users from Inverness at 1800 to Kingussie / Dalwhinnie.
The first additional round trip from Inverness is to Invergordon at 0915 (returning at 1035). The single line section was already nearly full to capacity (!) between 0930 and 1130 and as a result these additional services have long dwell times at Muir of Ord and Dingwall, crossing existing services to/from Wick/Kyle/Inverness. An additional service from Tain at 1257 fills a large interval in the southbound service between 0930 and 1542. 1144 and 1433 departures from Inverness fill the long interval between 1039 and 1747. A very welcome addition is a new service from Inverness to Ardgay at 1703 which will provide a popular return evening peak service for commuters with an earlier arrival time back home. This will increase seating capacity as the 1747 ex Inverness will predominately become for users north of Ardgay.
The final additional service from Inverness at 2037 provides connections out of the GNER Highland Chieftain (1200 ex London Kings Cross and 1633 ex Edinburgh) service and the 1819 ex Aberdeen. This allows for longer day trips from Tain / Dingwall to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow and for late night shopping and entertainment in Inverness, particularly on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings!
Services to/from Wick/Inverness are retimed up to 3 minutes slower as to allow for crossing moves with the additional 'Invernet' services. Service robustness is key to good performance especially with trains timed on long single line sections between passing loops.
In December 2006, a further additional unit will be diagrammed, with additional train crew at Wick and Inverness, allowing a 4th train to operate from Wick to Inverness at 0815. This will provide better connections out of 0630 ferry from Stromness and a good connection into the 1245 Inverness to Edinburgh service. In order to balance the rolling stock, the 1747 Inverness to Wick then operates as 4 coaches rather than 2 at present.
In the short term, FoFNL wishes to see the 1747 Inverness - Wick service retimed to depart at 1753 thence operating 4 minutes later throughout from Beauly by removing the operational stop at Clunes. This will allow a connection out of the 1523 ex Aberdeen service. (The 1800 ex Inverness and 1638 ex Kyle would operate 10 minutes later throughout. The 1550 ex Wick would be retimed 4 minutes later throughout.)
FoFNL has been campaigning for an additional 4th train to/from Inverness/Wick and a late evening Friday only train from Inverness to Wick, departing Inverness after 2030. Whilst the additional resources provided for the December 2006 timetable allows for a 0815 Wick to Inverness service to operate, it doesn't allow for a 1400 and 2030 (Friday night) Inverness to Wick service. FoFNL will work with First ScotRail and HRP to provide costed, sensible and resourced plans that could allow for these additional services to run.
Other plans for timetable enhancements include an additional 0715 Dingwall - Inverness service for connections into the 0755 GNER Highland Chieftain service to Edinburgh and London Kings Cross and proposals for an enhanced Sunday service between Tain and Inverness. These proposals have yet to be developed into full timetable plans. Before presentation to the Scottish Executive we need to be clear:
- Can an additional unit be provided?
- How many additional miles will be operated? Cost?
- How many additional train crew hours required?
- Will the 'new' service be used? Revenue forecast? Demand?
- Can the additional service(s) be timetabled / pathed robustly?
- Performance impact?
- Other operators? Freight Trains?
- Cost / Benefit?
Only when these (and many more!) questions can be answered satisfactorily can we proceed to make a case for further timetable enhancements!
In the meantime, enjoy your very much enhanced service on the Far North Line!