Transport Connections in the Highlands 2008 (Part 2)
In the light of the efforts being made to increase the use of train services on the North Highland Lines, I was asked by the Highland Rail Partnership to examine the existing links between rail and bus and to suggest any possible enhancements. While the Post Bus network has been reduced in recent years, other operators have taken over some routes, most under Council contract with faster journey times and using larger vehicles.
Thanks to HITRANS and local Councils, work has been done to provide connecting bus services at several stations BUT it is the provision of information alerting potential travellers that is the weak link in the system.
The Gateway to the North West but, again in many cases, journey opportunities from train to connecting bus are not immediately apparent through Traveline due to the sub-5 minute margin.
In view of the retiming to 0633 of the first train to Inverness, it may be possible to retime the 0627 SX S2 bus from Lairg P.O to connect in to said train and also in line with the recommendation shown under Ardgay. There are discrepancies in the published times for the afternoon buses between the Station and the Post Office.
It is encouraging to hear of increasing patronage on the George Rapsons bus service to Scourie, Kinlochbervie and Durness with the possibility of additional services and through ticketing.
The bus connection at Lairg into and out of the 1237 Wick to Inverness exists - I observed the bus waiting for the train to arrive - but as the official departure time is 1455/1510, depending on the information source, no wonder no passengers transfer from train to bus.
Through rail/bus tickets are available to Tain via Dornoch on Stagecoach 25X but are not particularly convenient for travel to/from Inverness although passengers to/from Beauly, Muir of Ord and Dingwall could use them due to the lack of alternative bus services.
The main bus stops are on Lamington Street, a stiff climb for the less mobile. There was a bus connecting, at the station, out of the 2040 train from Inverness on a Saturday for Dornoch, Golspie, Brora and Helmsdale which was withdrawn without publicity in November 2007 although still appearing in the Stagecoach 25X leaflet. The provision of availability for rail ticket holders would have been useful in ensuring the continuance of that service.
Again there is no liaison between rail and bus operators to advise of out-of-course running.
Connections to and from the Northlink Ferry at Scrabster are available by bus to/from the train and have historically worked well and continue to do so. A brief perusal of the grid will give details of the sometimes generous margins available to and from Bettyhill and Tongue to the West and Gills Bay (for Pentland Ferries) and John O'Groats to the East, although there are extra buses in the Summer to those points. There are no suitable connections to or from the Summer-only John O'Groats to Burwick ferry.
There are a couple of instances where a possible slight retiming of the bus would provide a connection at Thurso station, although many buses do not serve the station requiring a walk into the town proper.
Buses to John O'Groats run from the rail station, some providing reasonable connections with Pentland Ferries at Gills Bay.
Other buses run South towards Lybster and Dunbeath but generally passengers from the South would use the Citylink/HCB 958 to these destinations.
The onward travel poster now reflects the existence of the Stagecoach 25 (0621 SX from Tain, Scotsburn Road depot) connection from the Seaboard villages into the 0633 Lairg ALTHOUGH this bus arrives 'outside' the station at 0710 and the train now departs at 0711 which is rather a dubious 'connection'. Courtenay Cabs provide a subsidised taxi that meets both the 1703 and 1752 ex-Inverness on Mondays to Fridays.
The onward travel poster indicates a Post Bus service to Bettyhill via Forsinard although this bus has not run for some years.
NB The issues regarding sub 5 minute connection margins at Achnasheen, Lairg and Strathcarron have been addressed; journeys via these points involving a change from the train to the connecting bus appear to have been resolved, at least for the current timetable period until 17 May 2008.
Part 1 of this article appeared in the last newsletter.