The Case for Rail in the Highlands and Islands
This Report presents a summary of the findings of a study undertaken by Steer Davies Gleave, commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to establish the economic, social and environmental benefits derived from the rail network in the Highlands and Islands. The core of the study was concerned with economic impacts, but also the value of social and environmental impacts.
This Study has identified a range of benefits that the railways bring to the Highlands and Islands by quantifying the negative impacts that would occur in the absence of a rail network. The rail network plays five principal roles which are significant for the economic, environment and social well being of the Highlands and Islands:
- First, rail contributes substantially to the economy and especially value of the tourism sector in the Highlands and Islands: rail creates net expenditure which supports some 1,506 FTE jobs.
- Second, rail underpins the viability of businesses in the Highlands and Islands: many businesses located in the region have markets located outside the region, such as in the Central Belt, England or abroad. Access by rail to urban centres in the Highlands and Islands, Central Belt and further south is essential for successful businesses, not only for accessing markets, but staff travel, suppliers, training and conference opportunities.
- Third, the rail network plays a role in encouraging social inclusion and preventing migration out of the region, particularly for residents on islands or in remote mainland areas without access to a car, as well as for residents wishing to travel to the nearest urban centre for leisure, work or education activities. The presence of rail encourages people to live and work in the region.
- Fourth, as Inverness and the Inner Moray Firth area grows it will increasingly require public transport services if that growth is to be sustainable. Recent improvements to services around Inverness have resulted in a marked increase in usage, particularly for commuting journeys - any reduction in these services will have a negative impact upon the ability of that sub-region to grow sustainably
- Fifth, the rail network provides an alternative to road transport and a significant amount of freight is currently transported by rail. The absence of a rail network would see this trend reversed.
Passenger Rail Demand
Rail demand within the Highlands and Islands has grown over the last five years, particularly on the Far North Line, where patronage has increased by around 50% since 1997. Patronage on the Kyle Line has increased by just under 40%, by 35% on the Highland Main Line, 13% on the Aberdeen to Inverness Line and 20% on the West Highland Line. Overall patronage on day rail services across the ScotRail network has increased by 37% since 1997.
The general trend has been upwards and it is expected that rail demand will continue to grow. Approximately 1.3 million passenger journeys originated in the Highlands and Islands in 2002-2003, just under two percent of all passenger journeys originating in Scotland (62.2 million).
A survey of train passengers travelling on ScotRail services to, from, or within the Highlands and Islands was undertaken by Steer Davies Gleave between 21st August 2003 and 22nd September 2003. A total of 941 questionnaires were completed in face-to- face interviews on board day trains in the Highlands and Islands area. A further 408 interviews were undertaken with passengers on the Fort William and Inverness sleeper services.
CommutingThe ability to commute by rail within the Highlands and Islands has increased substantially over the last few years. This is especially the case in the Inverness area due to the:
- Re-opening of Beauly station
- Tain commuter service
- Invernet Project, due to commence in Spring 2005
In terms of social inclusion, access to employment and education opportunities as well as leisure activities are important elements of everyday life for residents within local communities in the Highlands and Islands. Access to activities such as shopping, restaurants and cinemas are important for the development of sustainable rural communities. However, many people living in remote areas require to travel significant distances in order to access these facilities, for which the rail network is an important facilitator, particularly for young and elderly people who do not have ready access to private cars.
The sleeper service is important to Highland and Islands resident business travellers as it provides an opportunity to travel overnight to London, conduct a day's business and return the following day. The attraction of the sleeper service is that it should allow users to make more productive use of their time by travelling overnight. Similarly, the link exists for customers, suppliers and other company locations to make visits to the Highlands and Islands more easily.
Movement of goods by road would increase in the absence of rail: an extra 7.3 million lorry road miles and more than 25,000 lorry loads.
Rail is important for people wishing to undertake social or leisure trips, as well as accessing employment opportunities and travelling on business. Access to educational opportunities within the region and outside it (e.g. Central Belt) is also important. Salient points are:
- The percentage of younger people aged between 16 and 29 is lower than the Scottish average (2001 Census): good public transport links play an important role in encouraging younger people to remain in the region, either for education or employment purposes.
- The level of private transport in the Highlands and Islands is on average higher than that for Scotland as a whole. However, car ownership is not the same as car availability, and in terms of car availability some settlements within the region are well below the average for Scotland. Just over 22% of Highlands and Islands residents interviewed did not have access to a car.
- The Tain commuter service and proposed Invernet Project are key improvements to the existing range of rail services and will have beneficial impacts: residents living along the route of the Tain commuter have benefited already, while those living south of Inverness will be able to commute to work / education by rail when the Invernet Project is implemented.
- The rail network provides key interchange opportunities for those without access to a car travelling to the islands, and similarly, from the islands onward to destinations throughout Scotland and beyond: around 10% of Highlands and Islands residents interviewed were resident on an island, and
- The absence of a rail network would influence some Highlands and Islands residents to consider relocation of home and / or place of work. Around 15% of residents interviewed on the Oban branch of the West Highland Line and Far North Line respectively stated that they would be strongly or very strongly influenced to move to a larger town, while just under 10% of residents interviewed on the Aberdeen and Highland Main Lines would be influenced to change employers.
The main body of the report carried many facts and figures and the following statistics for passenger numbers are of interest.
|Single passenger journeys year 2002/3:|
|Keith||63,000||Kyle of Lochalsh||41,000|
|Kingussie||23,000||Muir of Ord||23,000|
In addition, Golspie has a flow of more than 3,000 Shearings passengers on journeys to Wick.