scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

Highland Wide Local Development Plan (HWLDP)

The Highland Council (HC) launched a discussion document seeking views on their suggested options for the future of planning decisions for the Highland Council area.

We reproduce below the submission made by your committee which was supported by our paper "Strengthening the Far North Line".

5 November 2009

Director of Planning & Development
The Highland Council
INVERNESS

Dear Sir,

FoFNL was established in 1994, has 170 members, and keeps an eye on the Highland Main Line to Perth (HML) and the Inverness to Aberdeen line (INVAB) as well as on the Far North Line (FNL). This response to the HWLDP was approved at a FoFNL committee meeting in Inverness on 31 October.

FoFNL expects there to be a massive modal shift to rail, especially for freight, within the next 10 to 20 years due to the peak oil scenario, rising oil prices and increased scarcity together with other wide-ranging anti climate change measures which the world will be forced to adopt.

FoFNL is most concerned that, presumably because HC is not largely responsible for rail development funding (with the exception of former Hitrans money for e.g. Conon station re-opening), rail does not receive adequate consideration or mention in the HWLDP draft plan.

STRATEGIC PROJECTS

The Scottish Government's 2008 Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR) priority improvements to the Inverness- Aberdeen railway line are not mentioned at all in your pages about the important A96 corridor. We are disappointed that these important rail improvements are not programmed for completion until 2016 and are neither fully designed nor funded yet, but they certainly come within the scope and timescale of the HWLDP.

We would ask HC to actively lobby for the long awaited Dalcross station and passing loop with park and ride to be completed well before 2016. The projected half hourly service frequency of trains could then be introduced, especially at commuter times, to ease some of the pressure on the A96 road and on parking in the wider Inverness area.

A new metro service could be a longer term project along the north (or railway) side of the Inverness Millburn Road corridor crossing over the A96T to serve the Retail and Business Park and extending to Culloden, Balloch or further as required.

EASING ROAD CONGESTION IN AND AROUND INVERNESS

Similarly to the north of Inverness, we would hope that HC will actively support our bid to have line capacity between Inverness and Muir of Ord substantially increased so that there may be more commuter trains in both directions and additional services throughout the day. The way to achieve this is through the replacement of the former double track to create a passing loop between Lentran and Clunes (Kirkhill). A copy of our 2009 paper "Strengthening the Far North Line" which makes the case for this is enclosed herewith and may also be found in our September 2009 Newsletter and on our web site www.fofnl.org.uk

It is unfortunate that the timescale will probably be too short to have this loop operational in time to help with the 2011 Kessock Bridge resurfacing works which will inevitably increase the road congestion levels substantially above the very serious congestion already being experienced at peak times. The railway should still be able to help during this period by providing longer trains, but not with the frequency which would be desirable.

PROVIDING DOUBLE TRACK CAPACITY

This highlights the disadvantages suffered by all the single track rail routes in the Highlands. Capacity is seriously limited by the distances between passing loops. We would ask HC to lobby Government and Transport Scotland (TS) to address this with a continuing programme of doubling stretches of line particularly between Perth and Inverness and also between Inverness and Dalcross Airport. A programme similar to the old Crofter Counties Roads Programme is required.

The STPR priority schemes for the HML and INVAB lines include some line speed improvements. The Far North Line has seen line speeds reduced over the last five years increasing passenger train journey times between Inverness and Wick by 25 minutes. Continuing effort needs to be made to reduce journey times on the FNL.

INFRASTRUCTURE TO PERMIT SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN RAIL FREIGHT

Significant stretches of double track together with longer loops will permit the substantial increase in freight train numbers which will probably happen quite suddenly due to one oil crisis or another. We need to conserve the oil to permit necessary goods to be taken onwards to those parts of the Highlands which are not close to a railway line.

The other requirement is for a sufficient number of rail freight terminals in strategically appropriate locations with good access out on to the road network for onward transshipment of rail freight. This is a crucial land use decision which needs to be part of the Development Plan.

CRITIQUE OF YOUR DRAFT GROWTH STRATEGY PROPOSALS

Your Dispersed Growth Option map on p14 shows the possibility of reopening Clunes station as a "Commuter Rail Link." Evanton is also shown as an area for "settlement growth." It is not clear whether there is a potential station reopening shown under the graphics? Evanton provides a good illustration of a nodal point that could be developed for both rail passengers and freight using the formerly proposed Deephaven rail freight terminal. Invergordon is another place where land for rail freight access should be safeguarded beside the harbour.

This likely scenario of substantial increases in the traffic carried by rail also suggests that Corridors for Future Rail Use should be identified. One of these would be for a railway line from either Kildary or Nigg Station down to the jetties at the Nigg terminal. Such rail freight developments mean that the Council should also be lobbying for the extension of the improved freight loading gauge, from its present northerly limit of Elgin, through to Inverness, Invergordon and Nigg.

FoFNL has already made representations to the HC in the context of the Sutherland local plan to ensure that a transport corridor is protected from the Dornoch Bridge to Golspie to permit the future construction of a rail cut-off to serve Dornoch and shorten the route to Caithness. In the context of substantially increased rail traffic (particularly freight) there will be a need to reinstate many of the former passing loops between Inverness and Wick and the Dornoch line and the Lairg line taken together could provide a long loop or effectively double track.

Georgemas would be another node to develop for rail freight use in conjunction with a new curve to provide direct access to Thurso and a reopened passenger station at Halkirk.

STRENGTHENING YOUR ACCESSIBILITY AND TRANSPORT PROPOSALS

The section of the consultation document entitled "Accessibility and Transport" linked to Question 28b should be considerably strengthened in the light of the above. We consider that merely to say:
"Improving the rail... routes in the area"
and
"Highlighting the opportunities for improved freight transport throughout the area, including the use of rail..."
is seriously insufficient.

We therefore do not agree with your preferred option.

FoFNL believes it should be strengthened with a bullet point which is all about rail which, as a minimum, might read something like
"* Proactively seek significant rail passenger and freight improvements with appropriate new infrastructure located throughout the region."

We also consider that the existing bullet point 4 should be strengthened to read
* place an emphasis on the more sustainable modes of transport and on the reduction of emissions and promoting the use of cleaner fuels"

In this context, it is to be hoped that HC is in favour of the Scottish Government's aspiration to electrify the railway from Perth to Inverness by 2030.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, please include rail options in much greater detail in your plan so that they are always considered and promoted along side other possible solutions in all of Highland Council's deliberations on land use planning, development and actual construction of facilities to benefit the economy and people of the Highlands and our vital links with the rest of the UK.

We trust that our ideas may be incorporated in to the published plan and look forward to working with you in any way we can. If you wish any further information or clarification please contact the undersigned.

Yours faithfully,

R J Ardern
Committee Member FoFNL

Encl: Strengthening the Far North Line. (FoFNL 2009)

The Highland Council's document can be found at:
http://www.highland.gov.uk/yourenvironment/planning/developmentplans/localplans/HighlandWideLocalDevelopmentPlan.htm