Response to the Network Rail RUS Scotland Consultation
Friends of the Far North Line (FoFNL) was formed in 1994 to support the railway line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso, and now has over 200 members. FoFNL supports the Scottish Executive's policy of encouraging travellers to use public transport rather than private cars, so as to reduce traffic on overcrowded roads, to help conserve fuel resources, and to reduce the amount of pollution. We represent the views and aspirations of users of the Far North Line (FNL) and other lines out of Inverness, to service providers, government (local and national), Transport Scotland and other stakeholders.
FoFNL welcomes the RUS and the contemporaneous Highland Room for Growth (RfG) studies, which have been complied to a compatible standard.
FoFNL has identified nine schemes which we regard as PRIORITY schemes, and we have designated them accordingly in this Response.
- FoFNL believes that it is absolutely essential that the RfG recommendations for Route 25 (Highlands) are incorporated within the RUS (6.5.7). PRIORITY
- FoFNL sees these combined proposals as the foundation for the required hourly service frequencies to Inverness from beyond Perth, and from Aberdeen.
- FoFNL agrees with HITRANS that the minimum weekday service frequency on the longer-distance rural routes, such as to Wick, should be 4 services each way. Connections at Inverness to the north, and onward to Orkney, will be so much more attractive if the hourly frequencies above are achieved. Passengers connecting at Aberdeen will also benefit from this.
- FoFNL also wishes to see journey times on all routes reduced. The FNL is far too slow, and new UK standard safety measures have made it significantly slower in the last two years. This time loss must be regained. Considerable modal shift can be achieved by speeding up services from Inverness to Aberdeen and Edinburgh/Glasgow.
- FoFNL also supports efforts to ameliorate the severe road congestion which has now built up approaching and within Inverness. The Lairg/Tain commuter service has been a great success with a nearly full trainload of people no longer looking for parking spaces. There is considerable scope for further commuter trains from the Nairn direction making use of the proposed new station at Dalcross Airport and a possible new station at the Inverness Retail and Business Park.
- A robust and resilient timetable requires that waiting to pass other trains on the single track lines should be kept to an absolute minimum. The current limited line capacity makes it essential that the first sections out of Inverness to (at least) Dalcross Airport on the Aberdeen line and to Clunes on the FNL should have double track reinstated. The same would apply from Aberdeen (Kittybrewster) to Dyce or beyond. Trains may then start their journeys without having to wait for delayed incoming services. This would also ease pressure on platform space at Inverness and Aberdeen.
RUS schemes FoFNL supports
|Route 25||Option 17.1||Inverness-Aberdeen platform extension to accommodate 6-car trains.|
|Option 17.2||Inverness-Aberdeen additional infrastructure to operate an accelerated hourly service. PRIORITY|
|Route 24||Option 13.5||Line speed enhancements between Hilton and Ladybank. PRIORITY|
|Option 14.1||Timetable recast through Fife. It is essential in this recast to ensure hourly paths from Edinburgh to Perth via Ladybank for Inverness trains.|
|Option 10.1||Larbert to Stirling reduced headways. It is essential to ensure paths are available for Glasgow-Perth-Inverness trains.|
Room for Growth schemes to be incorporated into the RUS
|Route 25||p94||Reinstate Ballinluig and Newtonmore loops. PRIORITY Redouble line from Culloden to Daviot. Associated line speed improvements for hourly service frequency, plus freight paths.|
|p113||Raise Far North Line line speeds and loop speeds. PRIORITY
Upgrade level crossings. PRIORITY
Reinstate double track over whole or part of lengths from Clachnaharry to Clunes to create either a dynamic or static passing loop to improve robustness of timetable. PRIORITY
Construct Georgemas chord.
Re-open Halkirk station.
Additional schemes FoFNL wishes to see
|Route 25||Provide new train service from Inverness to Wick leaving at around 1400 and connecting at Thurso with the last (19.00) ferry to Orkney. PRIORITY
Reinstate double track at both ends of Inverness-Aberdeen line to facilitate robust time-table. We suggest Inverness to Dalcross Airport new station and Kittybrewster to Dyce, Raithes Farm Freight Terminal or beyond as appropriate to increase end-to-end hourly, and Aberdeen Crossrail, services. PRIORITY
As well as Orton loop, and marrying of Forres loop and station, consider transferring Keith loop to embrace station so that passengers can at least detrain while the train waits to go forward.
Consider new station at Inverness Retail and Business Park (Seafield of Raigmore) and additional commuter services to Inverness from Nairn and Elgin to reduce road congestion.
Consider new or re-opened station at Evanton.
Detailed notes on the RUS
We now turn to the detail of the RUS, and our comments are given in page order.
- In 1.1.7 on p11 the RUS says "Network Rail will take account of the recommendations from RUSs when carrying out its activities ...". Later, in 1.2.4 on p12 it says "The Scotland RUS will form a key input to the HLOS for Scotland." The RUS will thus have, and be clearly seen and understood by stakeholders to have, primacy among other possible suggestions listing work to be carried out or preliminary studies to be undertaken - if not, why have a RUS at all? It is therefore of fundamental importance to include the work carried out on those bits of railway not included in this draft. 6.5.7 on p51 talks a great deal of common sense in suggesting "... it is possible that the key recommendations [of the work carried out by Scott Wilson in the Room for Growth report] could be incorporated within the final strategy." FoFNL believes it is vital that all Scottish railway routes receive equal consideration in Network Rail's planning processes - without such a level playing field we fear that it will be increasingly hard to persuade stakeholders and funders to give proper consideration to any scheme which does not appear in the final RUS. Given the thoroughness with which Room for Growth has been researched and prepared we do not foresee difficulty caused by the incorporation of the findings and recommendations it makes. We do not think Network Rail's staff will need to spend more than a brief time on bringing the two sets of conclusions to the same level of presentational reliability.
- The suggestion at the end of 6.5.7 that the Room for Growth recommendations "[could] be the subject of a further industry RUS" is something to be resisted vigorously. If there are to be two Scotland RUSs it is inevitable that one will be much larger (and appear sooner) and likely to be taken more seriously than the other. Afterthoughts always remain afterthoughts.
- We support the clear policy statements in 2.1.2 on p14. These will make it even harder to include schemes which do not figure in the same document in which the policy is so clearly set forth.
- We note (2.3.2 on p14) that Part 1 of the Scottish Planning Assessment has appeared on Transport Scotland's web site, and hope to see the rest of the work published at an early stage.
- 4.2.2 on p20 sets out the criteria governing which sections were excluded. A careful reading of Appendix A suggests that some of the weighting scores are wrong. For example the Highland Main Line (HML) between Inverness and Perth is used by 2 TOCS - GNER and First ScotRail - and Criterion 5 should therefore be scored as 4 (or 5 if the number of freight paths is high enough). Criterion 4 - anticipated growth - is subjective to a greater extent than the other criteria which can be measured. It seems perverse to score the HML as only 1 - growth of up to 40% - as it links Scotland's fastest-growing city to the industrial and business centres. On the Far North Line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso and the Kyle Line we do not agree with the figures for criterion 2. A study of the online Appendix B (p33) suggests that the southern part of this route (Inverness to Tain) runs at 150% of peak utilisation and should thus score 5 for criterion 2. We could go on. Suffice it to say that lines have been excluded from consideration on flimsy, and often inaccurate, evidence. In FoFNL's view the only route (apart from the sections of the WCML and ECML) which should be excluded is the Edinburgh freight route.
- We note the Gaps and Options set out in Section 8, and commend the thoroughness with which these have been compiled. We are particularly pleased to see work (Option 13.5 on p78) to speed up the journey between Perth and Edinburgh, which will be of benefit to all passengers from north of Perth as well. We believe that more should be done in this section The long single track section hampers performance if trains miss their path - we believe that loops at Ballinluig and Newtonmore will greatly improve timetable robustness, as well as allowing more paths.
- The remarks in Option 15.1 on p79 caused more headlines in the press than the whole of the rest of the RUS, doubtless to the dismay of its authors. We are on record as having said that we do not consider the list of 23 lightly-used stations to be a "hit list" for closures and would be deeply disappointed, and embarrassed, were this belief to be misplaced, encouraged as it was by Network Rail. If Network Rail does not have a hit list (and we believe that they do not), why draw attention to this matter at all? Of course there are going to be a number of stations which come at the end of a footfall list, but why mention 23? We believe this to be counter-productive and likely to dominate reception of the final RUS, just at it dominated reception of the draft. We acknowledge that any business must monitor efficient use of its assets, but frightening the press and perhaps some passengers isn't a demonstration of good stewardship of assets. There have been too many "closures by neglect" of stations and whole lines well within living memory - it would be a retrograde step to revisit this as a means of managing Scotland's railway in the 21st Century. If there is a handful of stations with derisory numbers of passengers, Network Rail should say so and initiate the necessary closure procedures.
- In Section 8.5 - Highland Route - on p80 we applaud the Options listed. FoFNL has long had the aim of an hourly service between Inverness and Aberdeen, and the re-opening of loops is an essential part of this. However, there is no mention of a new station at Dalcross (serving Inverness Airport) nor of what we see as essential doubling of the line between the new station and Inverness.
- We are dismayed to see no mention of Glasgow Crossrail in the draft RUS. This is an essential link in the north/south part of the railway and without it the Glasgow Airport Link will have only a limited benefit. We are aware of strong criticism in some quarters of the low potential carrying figures for GARL, and believe that the omission of Glasgow Crossrail will unnecessarily constrain the new line from fulfilling its potential for passengers north and east of Glasgow itself.