How Far Away is Aberdeen or Even Dalcross?
One of the Scottish Government's "Strategic Transport priority projects" is the long awaited propulsion of the Inverness-Aberdeen Line (InvAb) into a route "fit for purpose" in the 21st century. Some progress has recently been made but there is a long way still to go to complete the project by 2016.
Network Rail's pre-feasibility study on the improvements to the Aberdeen to Inverness rail line was published on the Transport Scotland website on 22 March. It examines the engineering potential to deliver an hourly service with a running time of around 2 hours, possible new stations at Dalcross and Kintore, and extra peak time service enhancements between Inverness and Elgin and between Aberdeen and Inverurie.
Crossing the hourly services at Huntly and Elgin offers the best overall train service pattern and more efficient utilisation of existing and new infrastructure. New loops are required at Kintore and Dalcross for the hourly services to cross, and a further two loops are required, one between Aberdeen and Dyce and one at Forres for the half hourly service. The total cost (including a 35% contingency allowance) is estimated to be £200M.
Sadly, the report confirms that the new A96 trunk road bridge constructed over the railway at Raigmore interchange (Inverness) has a span which will only support a single track. Replacement of this structure would be difficult so any reinstatement of the double track section out to Dalcross would have to start east of Raigmore.
Other issues include whether to replace Forres station with a new two platform station on the nearby crossing loop and straighten out the track, eliminating the sharp curves. Similarly at Keith, several solutions are proposed to link up both station and loop (or loops). New and robust signalling solutions are also required.
Preferred choices will now be made by the end of this year and finance sought. In my view it would be a grave mistake to try and cut back this scheme, or to do it piecemeal. It is probably the only chance we will get to put the line properly to rights. Cheeseparing and compromise would only restrict operations yet again for many years to come. Rail can remain faster than the road and much safer too.