The Friends of the Far North Line (FoFNL) Committee recently presented to Transport Scotland and HITRANS timetable proposals for the Far North and Kyle Lines. These timetable proposals build on the success of the recently introduced Invernet timetable, which has seen considerable passenger growth, particularly between Inverness and Tain. The forthcoming partial closures of Kessock and Cromarty Bridges gives the opportunity to gain new traffic on the Far North line, both peak and off-peak, and to retain it after the work is complete.
Our timetable proposals expand the service to deliver hourly trains between Inverness and Tain, with the existing quantum of train services remaining to Wick, Thurso and Kyle of Lochalsh. Our proposals demonstrate that no new additional infrastructure will be required in terms of additional passing loops. However, we recognise that the current signalling system will either have to be life extended or updated to facilitate the number of train movements required. We have also included freight and charter train paths. These can be delivered on an 'either/or' basis along with the base passenger timetable.
The increased level of train services on the Far North Line post Invernet in December 2005 and, in particular, since the December 2008 timetable change, has seen a dramatic increase in patronage, particularly at the southern end of the line.
Starting again with a 'blank sheet of paper' and assuming one or two additional class 158 train sets (it is assumed that one additional train set will be made available for the duration of the Kessock Bridge road works), FoFNL started developing aspirations for continued improvement to the Far North Line (FNL).
High-level discussions took place between FoFNL and former senior railway managers, facilitated by our President, John Thurso, MP to discuss the strategy of future train service provision on the Far North line. Subsequently, we met with senior Network Rail managers to discuss the potential for timetable-related line speed improvements on plain line and pointwork, at level crossings and over bridges, as well as signalling upgrades.
The conclusions of this work showed that, starting from a 'blank sheet', we had to deliver a timetable that:
- provided the existing quantum of trains between Inverness, Kyle of Lochalsh and Wick
- provided an hourly frequency between Inverness and Tain
- provided additional peak capacity at Inverness
- maintained, or bettered, current end-to-end journey times
- included paths for freight and charter trains
- is compliant with the current Network Rail Rules of the Plan and network availability, and
- has no additional train crew resource requirements at Kyle of Lochalsh or Wick.
Our timetable is based on a 'standard hour' pattern between Inverness and Dingwall and, as far as possible, to Tain with extensions to Wick. We have aimed for all trains to call at all stations between Inverness and Dingwall. However, owing to a number of pathing and train crew reasons, we have not been able to achieve this completely. We have, though, been able to provide an hourly service at Alness, currently poorly served but Ross and Cromarty's largest town.
We have timetabled charter and freight trains between Inverness and Dingwall. However, it is only possible to provide paths between Dingwall and Tain by leaving gaps in the hourly service pattern. This, we acknowledge, is less than ideal and we invite TS to put a value on each individual train and what should take priority. The hourly train service between Inverness and Dingwall can be maintained, however. Whilst there are no major infrastructure enhancements required, there would be a significant increase in the number of trains operated on the route but we are unable to ascertain whether the existing RETB signalling system would be able to deliver the increased number of train movements. The timetable reinstates platform sharing at Georgemas Junction and Up trains joining at Dingwall. In connection with the latter, we propose that the existing Token Exchange Points at Evanton and Fodderty be moved to what we have described as North Dingwall and West Dingwall respectively.
It is a FoFNL policy aspiration to provide a 0600 service from Dingwall to connect into, or form, the 0646 Inverness to Edinburgh service, especially given the strength of the growth between Dingwall and Inverness in the past few years. Particularly now that passengers can leave Edinburgh as late as 1935 on Friday and Saturday evenings and arrive in Dingwall at midnight, we feel there is a gap in this market to provide an early morning service from Dingwall.
The existing Ardgay and Lairg trains are included in our timetable as well as the early morning train from Kyle of Lochalsh. In addition, adopting the all-day pattern, we have included a later train from Ardgay at 0722. This fulfils a long-held desire by regular travellers for an arrival in Inverness shortly before 0900. The extension back to Ardgay is purely operationally led as, otherwise, the train set would have an extended turn round time at Tain of 61 minutes. Our additional 0842 from Tain re-fills the gap in the timetable of an arrival at Inverness just before 1000, severed when the first train from Kyle of Lochalsh was retimed in December 2008.
The key starting point for the timetable was the position on the clockface of Inverness departures. The sensitivity of the post 1700 departure from Inverness (to Ardgay) was tested through observation at Inverness station on a number of dates and it was concluded that the majority of passengers were on board the train by 1710 (ahead of the current 1715 departure time). There was a significant abstraction from the 1752 to Wick when the 1703 Ardgay was retimed 12 minutes later in December 2008, showing that a departure between 1700 and 1709 was less attractive or indeed less practicable for people having finished work at 1700. Our timetable starting point was therefore 1712 Inverness to Ardgay. In keeping with the all-day pattern, the evening train from Inverness to Wick departs at 1811 with an additional peak departure from Inverness at 1752 to Kyle of Lochalsh.