The Dornoch Bridge Revisited
a personal view by Frank Roach
The Dornoch Bridge received several mentions in the Scottish Executive's Consultation on Strategic Priorities for Scotland's Passenger Railway. I thought it might be interesting to take a fresh look at the proposals in the current railway climate, as privatisation was not envisaged back in 1985 when a proposal to bridge the Dornoch Firth by rail was under serious consideration.
For comparison there is a table outlining three alternative ideas to the existing railway route. It aims to show the advantages and disadvantages of each of these three.
The possibilities explored for a Dornoch Firth crossing are:
- with the existing Lairg loop removed
- with a branch from the south terminating at Lairg
- retaining the existing Lairg loop
The potential journey time saving of 27 minutes is for ever in dispute. Only a more detailed study would reveal the performance of a Class 158 sprinter over the new route.
What is interesting is the effect on the passenger service operations: there would be no reduction in the numbers of train crews or d.m.u.s that would allow for additional services to be provided other than a possible start of the present Tain commuter train at Brora.
It is also evident that should Lairg be left on a branch or loop then operating costs would significantly rise. Along with the extra higher cost for the train and the associated staffing costs, there would be signalling implications, with a plunger system required at Meikle Ferry and The Mound to select the route, and the further loss of journey time while carrying out this procedure.
The original proposal was for a single platform for the Dornoch station, but with freight back on the line a passing loop would be necessary to replace the loops at Ardgay, Lairg and Rogart that would no longer be available.
If the bridge were built, how many extra passengers would be carried? If the numbers were doubled, some trains would have to be strengthened, leading to further leasing costs for additional units. The whole question becomes very complex. The project would have to compete for funds with the Stirling - Alloa link, the Glasgow and Edinburgh airport links, Edinburgh cross rail, reinstating a railway link to the principal Border towns and closer to home the necessary improvements to the Inverness - Aberdeen route and the upgrading of the Highland Main Line itself.
I hope in the next issue to look at other ways of achieving the magic three hours to Thurso.