December 2008 Timetable Review
The December 2008 timetable is a significant recast on the Far North and Kyle lines.
The key highlights for the Far North Line (FNL) are:
- 4th train from Inverness to Wick, EWD (Every Weekday), departing Inverness at 1356
- Additional commuter service from Ardgay to Inverness, arrive 0748, EWD
- Time allowing for a stop at Conon Bridge has been included in the timetable (although not shown in the public timetable)
- Retiming first UP Kyle of Lochalsh service to arrive Inverness 0853 - providing additional capacity into Inverness in the morning peak, EWD
- 4 trains per day between Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh, EWD
- Friday and Saturday late night Inverness to Tain service
- Improved Sunday service with an all day Invernet service operating between Tain and Inverness
The 4th train north has long been sought by FoFNL and is now being realised. This balances the 4th train south which has been operating since 2006. Both these services connect well in and out of the Scrabster/Stromness ferry as well as providing other positive benefits in terms of rail market contribution, accessibility and social inclusion.
The 1356 Inverness to Wick will stop at the following stations: Muir of Ord (cross 1203 ex Kyle of Lochalsh), Dingwall, Alness, Invergordon, Fearn, Tain, Ardgay (cross 1236 ex Wick), Lairg, Rogart, Golspie, Brora, Helmsdale, Forsinard (cross 1600 ex Wick), Georgemas Junction, Thurso (arrive 1745) and Wick (arrive 1815). It has been very difficult to provide an all-day timetable of four trains in both directions, particularly given the number of long single line sections. In addition, crossing three UP trains en-route without long dwell times is down to very good train planning. Indeed the 0706 Inverness to Wick crosses four UP trains at Muir of Ord, Dingwall, Lairg and Helmsdale with no more than a 5 minute dwell time at each crossing point. There will be two instances from December of trains crossing at Forsinard. You can already see the fragile nature of the timetable and operating additional services on the existing infrastructure could be an overall performance disbenefit.
The morning peak into Inverness is very well served. The additional 0625 ex Ardgay will arrive Inverness at 0748, ideal for connecting into the 0755 National Express East Coast service to Edinburgh and Kings Cross. The 0633 ex Lairg continues to operate and will arrive Inverness 2 minutes earlier at 0812. A later commuter service is provided by running the first UP Kyle of Lochalsh earlier at 0621 thus providing a 0853 arrival at Inverness. In the evening peak, the current 1703 Inverness to Ardgay service is put back to 1715 and the existing 1752 departure is retained, this time operating as a full four car train to Dingwall, thus eliminating the need for passengers to stand. At Dingwall, the train will divide with the front two coaches continuing to Kyle of Lochalsh and the rear two to Wick.
Having the 1752 marshalled this way has a number of advantages:
- the lightly loaded front portion (for Kyle of Lochalsh) will provide seats for Beauly and Muir of Ord commuters in terms of train stopping position and station exit
- transferring these commuters provides additional capacity for long distance Caithness passengers in the rear portion
- some commuting passengers will use the 1715 Inverness to Ardgay service which will connect out of the 1335 ex Edinburgh
However, this does mean that the Wick portion will depart Dingwall later and passengers for Alness, Invergordon, Fearn and Tain will have a journey time extension of 8 minutes (2 minutes for Conon Bridge stop and 6 minutes for Dingwall stop and detachment of front Kyle of Lochalsh portion). Thurso and Wick overall journey time extension is 11 minutes.
On balance, FoFNL regrets this journey time extension on the key train of the day. We have had discussions with Transport Scotland about getting this reversed, (ie having the Wick portion in front), but the deadline for timetable delivery has been passed. The operational reason for having the Wick portion on the rear is the need for the 1715 ex Kyle of Lochalsh to arrive in Inverness in time to form the 1953 Inverness to Elgin (there are no other units available at Inverness to do this) and at the same time be the train that provides the "parliamentary service" between Rose Street and Welsh's Bridge at Inverness (the 1523 Aberdeen to Kyle of Lochalsh no longer operates). To avoid closure procedures, a train service must be booked to operate on this section between Rose Street and Welsh's Bridge at least once a week.
On Sundays the 1800 Inverness to Wick service is a portion of the Kyle of Lochalsh service, as is the 1752 on weekdays. However, the 1800 to Kyle of Lochalsh only operates on 12 Sundays during the summer so for the rest of the year the Wick service has an unnecessary 6 minute dwell at Dingwall. This is to keep the winter and summer schedules the same in the public timetable throughout the year. There are a number of solutions to both of these problems which have been communicated to Transport Scotland.
In a bid to improve journey times and create connectional opportunities at Inverness, the 1236 ex Wick will not stop at Conon Bridge and Beauly (it already having 1608 and 1652 departures to Inverness). The 1600 ex Wick will not stop at Fearn, Alness, Conon Bridge and Beauly. These stations will be served by the 1926 ex Ardgay (and the 1715 ex Kyle of Lochalsh) but regrettably Fearn and Alness will not have a Sleeper connection.
Off-peak Invernet services are revised. The current 0915 ex Inverness and 1033 ex Invergordon are withdrawn as these services were not well used. The 1217 Inverness to Invergordon terminates at Dingwall so as to return to Inverness to form the 1331 to Kyle of Lochalsh and create a path for the 1356 to Wick. However removal of the 1033 and 1311 ex Invergordon services creates a gap in UP Alness departures between 0948 and 1541. The Kyle of Lochalsh timetable is as now but with the two key exceptions of the first UP Kyle of Lochalsh departing earlier at 0621 and the provision of a fourth service, in both directions, all year round, departing Inverness at 1331 and Kyle of Lochalsh at 1437.
Other Inverness area re-timings related to the FNL include an additional 0710 Inverness to Aberdeen service. The 0842 ex Inverness is put back to 0905 thus connecting out of the 0621 ex Kyle of Lochalsh. Critically, the 1219 ex Inverness is put back to 1236 thus creating a 23 minute connection at Inverness out of the 0811 ex Wick, hopefully going some way to avoid missed connections during late running and allowing, if so required, the 0811 ex Wick to stop additionally at Alness to fill the gap described above. In the other direction, there is an additional service from Aberdeen at 0823 arriving Inverness at 1040 (missing the 1038 to Wick) but the existing connection is retained with the 0728 ex Aberdeen brought forward to depart at 0714. Later in the day, the current 1140 Aberdeen to Inverness (what would have connected into the 1356 to Wick) is retimed later and arrives Inverness at 1410. On the Highland Main Line, the service structure is as now with the exception that the 1441 ex Inverness is retimed to 1451 and diverts to Glasgow Queen Street and the 1656 ex Inverness diverts to Edinburgh. The morning Kingussie service starts from Aviemore at 0757 arriving Inverness later at 0846. In the evening, the 1656 ex Inverness stops additionally at Carrbridge.
The December 2008 timetable on the FNL forms the base plan for future timetables. FoFNL will continue to work with Transport Scotland and industry partners to smooth off any remaining rough edges.