Passenger Watchdog Meets
The Rail Passengers Committee for Scotland held its latest quarterly meeting in Dunblane on 15 August. Presentations were given by Alastair McPherson, MD of ScotRail and by Nigel Wunsch, Strategy & Planning Manager for Railtrack Scotland.
The most encouraging news for the north is that the Strategic Rail Authority has asked Railtrack to work up the case for Inverness-Aberdeen track improvements to "level 4". (Level 4 is where a scheme is sufficiently developed to commence detailed design and costs have been estimated in some detail. Level 5 is the final stage). It has taken a long time to get this far and Alastair McPherson was keen to see the scheme completed so that ScotRail can run trains on an hourly frequency in an end to end time of under two hours. The line will have to compete with some 200 other schemes nationally and it is obvious that strong lobbying of MPs, MSPs and the SRA must continue to achieve this.
Alastair McPherson reviewed the problems ScotRail has been having with its new fleets of diesel and electric units. Punctuality has climbed from the post Hatfield low to 86% but this is still 5% below previous levels. ScotRail is having to work very hard to win back its sleeper passengers and expects to have class 67 haulage to Inverness by October. There is to be a new crew depot at Dumfries and a revenue protection exercise has started in the Edinburgh area.
Nigel Wunsch revealed that there were 53 current speed restrictions including three sites exhibiting gauge corner cracking. 75% of track delays are caused at 40 junctions within the central belt. A "modern facilities at stations" programme has been submitted for SRA approval to involve 140 stations, 81 of which would see toilet improvements. He agreed to look in to the track circuit problems at Perth which are presently diverting Inverness trains away from platform 3 to the remote platform 7.
The Inverness - Aberdeen level 4 results should be sent to the SRA by the end of the year. The main work would involve a long loop at Orton and moving Forres station on to the existing passing loop. George Littlejohn, a RPC member from Elgin, argued strongly for a loop to be provided at Keith station. I suggested lengths of double track at both the Inverness and Aberdeen ends so that, at times of late running, trains could be sent out on time instead of having to await arrival of the late incoming service. (This system has proved its worth on the Inverness - Perth line).
The new chairman, Mike Lunan from Arran, kept the meeting moving with humorous asides such as "A.O.C.B. (Any other competent business - for those not familiar with minutes of meetings) is the slack between Watford Junction and Euston". He had enjoyed his first visit by train to Georgemas Junction. A meeting with Sarah Boyack had given him the strong impression that the Scottish Executive would decide on a new 20 year franchise for Scottish rail services eventually but might extend ScotRail's existing franchise for a further two years first.
RPC Scotland is currently finishing a paper on the future of inter-city travel within Scotland. They would like to see fast high quality services between Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness with feeder services (such as Invernet) in to each of these nodes.
The next RPC Scotland meetings will be in Edinburgh in November, Ayr in February, Perth in May and Fort William in August. Meanwhile, the parent national body, the Rail Passengers Council, will have met in Edinburgh on 19 September. It is likely Sarah Boyack will use the occasion to launch the Scottish Executive rail transport plan "The vision for Scottish rail services over the next 15 years". Other speakers will include Nick Newton, Executive Director, Strategic Rail Authority and Richard Brown, MD National Express Group and Chairman of ATOC on how and when railway performance will improve.
It has become the norm on RPC days for ScotRail to stage a 'spectacular'. Today was no exception. We got back to Kingussie to find a lot of passengers milling around. The front two coaches of the 13.40 Edinburgh - Inverness had become immoveable on the single line ahead with a broken drive shaft.
We caught up with Frank Roach who had left the RPC meeting at lunchtime. A touch of unreality was provided by a cow which crossed the level crossing heading into Kingussie. Would it be able to shift the broken down unit perhaps? Buses were provided to Aviemore where another unit was waiting.
As the 13.40 should have formed the 17.30 to Wick, I hope Inverness had a spare unit. They are still not often available at Inverness.