Lentran Loop: Lynchpin Of The Line?
This last year has seen the greatest amount of activity in the development of services on the Far North Line for many many years. With the successful implementation of the Invernet services and recently the 4th train south behind us, we can look forward to the refurbishment of the rolling stock during 2007/8. We are also at a crucial stage for the acceptance of schemes for the improvement of the line over the next ten years or more.
FoFNL has been busy responding to many important strategy documents throughout the last year. These are all feeding in to government ministers and their agency Transport Scotland to inform decisions which have to be made on the future direction of rail expansion policy. That this is all happening at the same time as the Holyrood election adds an extra measure of interest.
FoFNL is keen to see that the timetable deceleration of 2005 is reversed, with line speeds and loop speeds and the speeds at level crossings are all increased where possible. This incrementalist approach will win back useful minutes and go some way to reducing the advantage the road has on journey times. FoFNL would also be happy to see DorLAG (the Dornoch Link Action Group) build a robust case for the short cut across the Dornoch Firth from Tain to Golspie which could save some 35-40 minutes en route to and from Caithness.
FoFNL's immediate priorities are to build cases for the early replacement of the radio signalling system and for the capacity increase and greater operating efficiency which would stem from a double track crossing facility in the Lentran area. Last summer's Scott Wilson report made a very good case for this loop at an estimated cost of around £1M for a 200 metre long loop or £9M to redouble the whole six miles from Clachnaharry to Clunes. The additional signalling costs for each project would be a further £6M making totals of £7M or £15M for the two options. The only reason it was not amongst the final recommendations was due to fears that the 1985 RETB signalling system is so obsolete it might collapse if alterations were attempted.
FoFNL finds this quite unacceptable and has been lobbying for both the RETB replacement and the Lentran enhancement to be included in the Network Rail and HITRANS strategies. One attractive solution might be to extend the existing Inverness colour light signals from Clachnaharry to Clunes, Muir or even Dingwall.
The present 13 mile single track section from Inverness to Muir takes 20 minutes partly because of the very slow speed limit over the Caledonian Canal swing bridge. Some of the margins at Inverness between an incoming arrival and an outgoing departure are as little as two minutes. There is no room for late running. A delay to the morning 06.22 from Wick due at 10.37 can delay the 10.39 to Wick. This can consequently delay the 08.13 from Wick at Invergordon and it has a crucial crossing with the 12.37 from Wick at Forsinard where there is a 35 minute single line section to Helmsdale. If the 12.37, due in to Inverness at 16.49 is late, it can delay the 16.55 connection to Glasgow. Indeed, the whole process could equally have started with the 07.07 from Glasgow due Inverness at 10.26 being more than 12 minutes late arriving. A delay in Glasgow in the morning can be reflected back to Glasgow that same evening.
This is why the restoration of a double track section through Lentran is of such vital importance. Creating extra capacity for freight in particular and avoidance of inconvenience and extra cost to both passengers and the railway in making alternative arrangements when trains are late underlines the need for the enhancement.