Major reports on the future prospects for rail the north.
There have been three reports published by the Highlands & Islands Enterprise:
Your committee's response has been widely circulated and is as follows:
FRIENDS OF THE FAR NORTH LINE's response to the Room for Growth document from Scott Wilson
Our view is that:
- they are excellent studies greatly informing the debate about Highland rail planning;
- it is very clear that, as far as infrastructure is concerned, Dornoch link is hopelessly uneconomic; but
- spending on the Highland Main Line (HML) between Perth and Inverness (and south of Perth, as described in the RUS) is clearly both desperately needed and justified on cost-benefit analysis (CBA);
- modest improvements on end-to-end timings on the Far North Line (FNL) are possible and cost-effective;
- Radio-Electronic Token Block (RETB) signalling is the major obstacle to any improvements on FNL/Kyle Line, and we should focus our attention on helping to solve this;
- Inverness-Aberdeen improvements including Dalcross Station and loops/double track should be progressed.
In essence FoFNL accepts that in the absence of a pot of external (to the rail industry) money the £73m +/- 50% (excluding signalling) needed to build the Dornoch link is so far away from an acceptable CBA figure as to make it hard to justify further expenditure unless it can be shown that Room for Growth has somehow failed to take all relevant factors into account. FoFNL does not take this view, although it is aware that others may do. Nonetheless the Dornoch link is bound to remain a long-term objective of Caithness-based economic forums of one sort or another.
FoFNL is much keener to involve itself, and expend energy, in lending support to the many smaller schemes for speeding up trains on the FNL outlined in the documents - speeding up loop entry/exit and eliminating many of the unnecessary speed restrictions at level crossings. We believe that modest, but nonetheless useful, savings can be achieved at relatively small cost.
The principal benefit to users of the FNL, however, would seem to come from substantial expenditure on improving end-to-end timings on the HML through to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Many users of the FNL are proceeding south of Inverness and will benefit directly, especially if line speed improvements between Perth and Edinburgh are carried out at the same time as work on the HML itself. We hope that this will include a loop at Newburgh to improve robust performance. It's very clear that Network Rail is extremely keen not to interfere with the RETB system. Even replacing some sections with non-RETB signalling (eg. colour light signalling from Inverness to Dingwall) seem to be off the agenda because removing sections from RETB might give rise to problems. We are gravely concerned about the implications of what appears to be a "do nothing" policy for perhaps as long as 7 years. A great deal of reliance appears to be placed on a successful outcome of the ERTMS trial on the Cambrian Coast (itself already slipping behind schedule): what is NR's Plan B if the technology cannot be made to work? We would hope that some research is being carried out (perhaps in the Highlands where the benefit is likely to be felt) into possible alternative signalling systems for isolated bits of relatively lightly-used railway.
We shall comment separately on the Scotland RUS, and in particular its conclusions about the Inverness-Aberdeen line. However, our end of it affects our services into and out of Inverness. We are keen to see a station at Dalcross built at an early stage. In order to meet the anticipated traffic we believe it is essential to double the track from Inverness as far as Dalcross. Double track to Clunes would so greatly increase both capacity and robust performance on the Far North and Kyle lines that we cannot see why both schemes are not near the top of NR's agenda. At the same time colour light signalling should be installed between Inverness and Dingwall.
Our conclusion is that Network Rail should commit itself to carrying out the following:
Examine sections of the FNL and Kyle Line where line speeds could be increased
Assess level crossings on FNL and Kyle Line to determine costs of line speed improvements at these locations
Assess cost of constructing Geogemas Chord
Assess cost of re-opening Halkirk Station
Re-open Conon Station
Double the line between Inverness and Clunes
Open a new station at Dalcross
Double the line between Inverness and Dalcross
Carry out work to improve HML
Do at least some work in the Assess column
We note in para.6.5.7 on p.51 of the RUS that it is suggested that it may be 'possible" to incorporate Room for Growth and the associated Halcrow report into the RUS as a result of the consultation. We believe this to be essential so that a holistic view of the rail network is taken throughout Scotland by the Scottish Executive and Transport Scotland. The network is one: so should be its future development.