Connections with Orkney Ferries
Earlier in the year Richard Ardern wrote to Jim Wallace MSP for Orkney asking for help in discussions about connections between First ScotRail services and NorthLink ferry services.
On the 23rd May, Nicol Stephen MSP, then Minister for Transport sent the following reply to Jim Wallace.
"Thank you for your letter of 5 April 2005 about the connections between First ScotRail services on the Inverness to Thurso line and the NorthLink ferry services from Scrabster to Stromness.
First ScotRail and NorthLink Ferries have discussed the proposed new timetable. One of First ScotRail's key criteria in the redesigned timetable was to maintain as many NorthLink connections as possible.
First ScotRail considered including a connection to meet the 08.00 arrival at Scrabster by retiming the first train southbound to leave two hours later than at present, but found that to do so would involve the recruitment of extra train crew. Even if these extra crew were available now, they would have to be trained, which would take fifteen months for the drivers. This would need additional subsidy which would have to be met by the Scottish Executive.
First ScotRail was also advised by the Highland Rail Partnership that retiming the train to approximately 08.00 would mean that passengers from Wick and intermediate stations north of Tain would not arrive in Inverness until 12.15, two hours later than at present; this would create problems for passengers with things such as hospital appointments. It would also have implications for those passengers travelling further than Inverness - an extra two hours added to journeys to Glasgow and Edinburgh and beyond.
We do accept that the gap between the first and second services leaves Islanders travelling further south at a disadvantage and we are considering an extra rail service connection to meet the 08 00 ferry arrival at Scrabster. My officials have asked First ScotRail what the costs of providing an additional daily (except on Sundays) southbound service are, and have been told around £350 000 a year. There is the possibility that other ongoing discussions between my officials and First ScotRail on rolling stock re-allocation might mean that this cost would come down and I intend to follow this up. We will need to consider the business case for additional expenditure on this scale. There are already good public transport options available. For example, coach connections (southbound) for the 06.30 departure off Stromness (08.45 CityLink on the pier at Scrabster, as well as the 11.00 (12.45 CityLink on the pier).
For northbound journeys there is a 15.25 Rapsons off Inverness which connects with NorthLink's 19.00 service from Scrabster.
I hope this is helpful."