Line for all seasons - Part 1
One important Inverness asset which has been neglected for far too long is the railway line to Aberdeen. On Monday 18 August this line celebrates its 150th anniversary as a through route and it is certainly showing its age. To mark the occasion, there is to be a reception in Inverness and a plaque will be unveiled on Elgin station on Saturday 16th.
With the future prospects for oil supply and pricing and with the current concerns over man's effects on the environment and possible influences on climate change, it is certain that the railways will be much more important in the future for the carriage of both passengers and freight. The train has long been the quickest means to travel between the two cities, but because the line is single track and passing loops are few, the services have been infrequent.
There is now a prospect for this to change. Network Rail have been asked by the Scottish Government to prepare an outline plan to upgrade the route such that an hourly frequency of Inverness to Aberdeen passenger services might be achieved with an even more frequent local commuter service at both ends. Capacity should also be built in to allow freight trains to traverse the route in between the passenger trains.
With the train being much quicker than the bus and even measurably quicker than the private car on the A96 trunk road, it is sad that so many years have been lost when this advantage was not realised. It makes a lot of sense to give travellers the option of a regular and speedy train service. It saves congestion and parking problems in the towns and cities en route and importantly, it saves lives. The A96 is quite a handful to manage in wintry conditions, in darkness and at times of low sun in the driver's eyes. In short, it is much more environmentally friendly to use the trains.
In 1994 ScotRail proposed that the line be improved to achieve a total journey time of under two hours between the two cities and with an hourly frequency of trains. Fourteen years later the studies are being done and Transport Scotland has specified that "Infrastructure enhancements required to permit an hourly service between Aberdeen and Inverness" should be considered for what is called Tier 3 funding in future years.
It is thus vitally important that local politicians, councils and rail users keep the need to develop the line at the forefront of their minds. Hitrans and Nestrans, the regional transport bodies are also keen to see progress made. Rail passengers along the entire route might wish to consider whether the establishment of a users' or supporters' group for the line would be desirable to have dialogue with the authorities.Conclusions
The Inverness-Aberdeen railway exists in something of a timewarp. Given the recent huge expansion in population and traffic along the whole 100 mile corridor and given oil and environmental concerns, it can be argued that the railway's time has come. It is time for a new renaissance of this 150 year old line. Future journeys by train on this scenic and useful line could be fast, comfortable and frequent. Let us all ensure we make it happen.
In the next issue we will read Richard's suggestions for improvements.