The Slow Train
The Friends of the Far North Line today expressed surprise that First ScotRail (FSR) are to decelerate the trains from Wick to Inverness by so much as twenty to twenty five minutes end to end when the new timetable comes into force on 12 June. The original suggestion was that it would be less than ten minutes.
The slow down has been brought about by new safety procedures introduced over the last year. FoFNL concedes that safety is vitally important but considers that Network Rail should have introduced the "over-speed sensors" which have helped to alleviate a similar situation in Wales. So much extra time is being added here that three and three quarter hours from Thurso and four and one quarter hours from Wick to Inverness are not attractive journey times to encourage passengers.
The morning trains will leave from Wick at 06.23 and from Inverness at 07.14 which is too early for many passengers. Maybe FSR should now provide a sleeping car available from 10pm for Wickers (They will already be providing a connection from Thurso to Wick at 9.30pm) so that passengers can get a good night's sleep and wake up well on their way to Inverness!
The new 10.39 gives a more useful departure time from Inverness than 11.27 but this now leaves a gap of over SEVEN HOURS until the next train which is not an acceptable level of service. This strongly reinforces FoFNL's case for reintroducing a fourth train leaving Wick at around 08.30 and returning from Inverness at 14.00 to provide civilised starting times and good boat connections.
The retimed 17.43 from Inverness will miss by five minutes an incoming service from the Aberdeen line making passengers catch the previous service and wait nearly 2.5 hours. Again this underlines that the provision of an hourly interval service on the Aberdeen line is long overdue having first been promised in 1994.
FoFNL welcomes the new status of Alness and Fearn as mandatory stops and calls for a good bus connection to be provided from the Seaboard villages to Fearn to connect with the welcome new Invernet services to be introduced in December.
Together with the poor standard of rolling stock currently used, these timetable changes underline the need for major investment on the line. FoFNL would suggest that this could start with the construction of the Georgemas curve direct to Thurso and with the ordering of new rolling stock fit for the needs of the line. That includes much greater passenger comfort, increased luggage space and bicycle space which recognises the popularity of cycling in the area and the unique John O'Groats\Land's End cycling factor.
FoFNL believes Network Rail should also be required to improve the points and signalling so that the slow crawl into each loop can be speeded up. They should also examine intermediate speed limits to see where quick win improvements to line speed could be made.
FoFNL considers that this slow new timetable should be seen as a short temporary measure and that strenuous efforts should be made by the rail companies to speed the trains up again. This serious situation reinforces the case for an Executive sponsored overall survey of how infrastructure and services on the line could best be improved to adequately serve the various markets of local people, tourists and travellers to Orkney. In conclusion, FoFNL has suggested to First ScotRail that they should offer some compensation to their regular loyal customers for this major inconvenience.