The new timetable introduced in December has certainly proved popular with commuters into Inverness - at least in terms of numbers if not necessarily timings. On the first weekday 169 passengers arrived at Inverness from the north before 0900 - well up on previous carryings. As well as these there were 100 arrivals from east and south. The Invernet experiment is proof yet again that projected passenger numbers have always exceeded those produced in the preliminary justifying documents. It's very clear that if a service is actually provided, more - sometimes far more - people will use it than the numbers who say they would in a hypothetical situation. There have been grumbles about earlier starts and longer commuting journeys. FoFNL is aware of these but in most cases they are a direct consequence of squeezing more services onto inadequate infrastructure - indeed it's a tribute to the timetablers at Network Rail and First ScotRail that the fourth train north - finally provided after much campaigning from FoFNL - can run at all.
The answer to all this, of course, is to spend fairly modest amounts (under £10 million) on providing more passing places (loops or redoubling) where trains can pass and continue their journeys without waiting for others. It's crazy that trains can't leave Inverness because an incoming service is delayed and is occupying the long single track section from Muir of Ord. FoFNL does not advocate building double lines on the raised section in Inverness itself, nor on the Clachnaharry Bridge - we're not daft - but we do continue to press the case for a loop (or redoubling) at Lentran. This would allow more efficient use of Inverness itself, and permit recovery (and prevent knock-on delays) when - as is not uncommon on 4-hour journeys - trains run a moment or two late. How much does it cost FSR in a year to take delayed passengers further south by bus or taxi if their FNL train is too late for the connection? How much unquantified cost do passengers themselves incur? A time must surely come when it makes financial sense to do the work and eliminate the resource drain.
FoFNL is only too well aware that times are hard and money tight. We are aware that the constituencies of Messrs Brown and Darling require to be linked by yet another bridge, and that, life being what it is, spending on this bridge (£4 billion? £2 billion?) will trump spending on pretty well everything else. All the more important, then, that small-scale schemes (and £10 million is small-scale in railway terms) which deliver greater reliability should be ready and waiting for the inevitable "where can we spend a few million quickly?" question.