December 2012, Timetable Revision
The biggest change for some years on the Far North Line will be the long awaited reopening of Conon Bridge station in February, 2013. All trains will stop there apart from the 08.12 "boat train express" from Wick which will whistle through at about 11.49. The Conon stopping times are all shown in the new pocket timetable.
In addition, Beauly will gain two new calls at 14.14 by the retimed 14.00 Inverness to Wick and at 16.53 by the 14.37 Kyle to Inverness train. All stops at Beauly, Alness, Fearn and Culrain will be mandatory: no more of the "stops on request" scenario. The mandatory stop at Rogart by the 17.54 from Inverness will now be by request in common with all the other calls at that station. The 14.00 Inverness to Wick will now call at all stations, but some only on request. The 06.20 from Wick has a catering trolley only on Saturdays and both the 07.06 from Inverness to Wick and the 07.10 to Aberdeen are still without catering. The lack of catering on the first Far North Line services has been a source of concern to FoFNL for some time and has been flagged up with First ScotRail.
The extra stops at Conon Bridge have been allowed for in the timetable for several years so there are few changes of more than three minutes to any of the services. The main exception is on a Sunday when the former 12.22 from Inverness to Tain now leaves at 13.02 and there is a tight turnround with the return service leaving at 14.11. The Sunday 10.18 from Kyle and 11.00 from Inverness to Kyle run 11 minutes and 16 minutes earlier than previously. A further curious change is that the weekday 12.36 from Wick now leaves Dingwall six minutes earlier at 16.13 but the arrival time of 16.48 in Inverness is unchanged. Introduction of conventional multiple aspect signalling between Dingwall and Inverness (which FoFNL has advocated) could probably speed up this train by five minutes.
Some Highland Main Line (HML) services to and from Perth are speeded up and some timings on the Inverness to Aberdeen line have been altered, making better Inverness connections in some cases. The official minimum connection time between trains at Inverness is 5 minutes, but be aware that the 21.10 to Tain leaves from platform 7 and it is a long walk from platform 3 from off the 17.42 from Edinburgh. This helpfully arrives a minute earlier than previously at 21.01 and the Tain goes out a minute later than previously giving a precious extra two minutes for this connection.
It should now be possible to connect out of the 08.21 from Aberdeen into the 10.37 to Wick as the former now arrives 9 minutes earlier at 10.31. Previously passengers had to be on the 07.14 from Aberdeen and wait nearly an hour at Inverness. The 14.00 to Wick is not well served with a connection from Aberdeen and the 17.54 to Wick and Kyle has the absolute minimum of 5 minutes as the 15.28 from Aberdeen now arrives one minute later at 17.49. On Sundays, the retimed 13.02 to Tain gains a new connection from Edinburgh and Glasgow. Southbound on Sundays, the 11.53 from Wick now has 20 minutes rather than 13 to connect with the retimed 16.24 to Glasgow. On weekdays, the 16.00 from Wick is timed one minute later in to Inverness thus making the connection with the 20.15 to Glasgow the bare minimum 5 minutes.
The HML speed-up has resulted in average weekday southbound journey time improvements of one minute to Edinburgh (3 hr 30 min) and 2 minutes to Glasgow (3 hr 21\0xBD min), and northbound average improvements of 9 minutes (3 hr 24 min) and 5\0xBD min (3 hr 14\0xBD min) respectively. The headline improvement (which has been given all the publicity) is a useful 17 minute reduction in the timing of the 18.11 from Glasgow Queen Street to Inverness to 3 hours 15 minutes.
Two of the services to Glasgow travel south from Stirling via the Cumbernauld line which adds ten minutes on to their journey times. The fastest train of the week is the Sunday northbound 14.40 from Glasgow which reaches Inverness in 3 hours 5 minutes. This could be 10 minutes faster still if it did not stop at Larbert, Dunblane and Gleneagles. Proof, if proof were needed, that Inverness and Glasgow services in 3 hours could be introduced given weekday line capacity improvements on the HML.
Between Inverness and Edinburgh, the fastest train is the weekday 06.50 southbound which takes 3 hours 12 minutes. A further 5 minutes could be taken off that given a good path south of Kirkcaldy, but a 3 hour timing is just beyond reach at present. What is so noticeable is that the Edinburgh trains take so much longer on weekdays averaging 3 hours 30 minutes southbound (including the faster 06.50) and 3 hours 19 minutes on Sundays. Sub three hour journey times are required to make the trains competitive with the car and the weekday capacity problems on the HML need to be urgently addressed by the long promised reinstatement of former passing loops. The main omission in the HML timetable is a mid-afternoon train back to Inverness from Edinburgh. There is a long 3-hour gap in service unless you have tickets valid on East Coast's 16.32 departure. The 15.35 from Edinburgh to Perth could usefully be extended through for an Inverness arrival around 19.00 if a path can be found on the HML.
The vagaries of timetabling services over long single line routes are apparent in some of the compromises in the new timetable. The 13.38 from Aberdeen has to wait for 13 minutes at Nairn to gain access to the single line on to Inverness. This is ample proof of the need for the construction of a loop at Inverness Airport (Dalcross). Hourly connections from the Nairn line with trains to the south are now provided by arrivals at 07.45, 08.33, 09.35 and 10.31. These new timetables are a springboard from which can be built the faster services we all wish to see on all three routes once some of the many constraints imposed by single track are removed by the promised upgrades to loops and signalling.