Progress (of Sorts) on the HML?
It has been reported in the railway press that events in England have led to some stirrings within the Scottish Government over what the future rolling stock on the principal Inter-City routes in Scotland could be. Virgin Trains, which operates the West Coast Main Line franchise, is reported to be considering acquiring 21 6-car "mini-Pendolinos" to replace its Voyagers. A large proportion of the mileage of the latter - which are 125 mph tilting 5-car diesel multiple units - is "under the wires", chiefly on services between Birmingham and Edinburgh/Glasgow, a fully electrified route. Pendolinos are 140 mph tilting electric trains in 9- and 11-car formations, although they currently run at a maximum speed of 125 mph. If the Voyagers were to be replaced, some or all of them would be released back to the rolling stock leasing company (ROSCO) and become available for lease by other train operating companies (TOCs). The reports say that the Scottish Government might be interested in using them on services between Edinburgh/Glasgow and Aberdeen/Inverness. What their maximum speed would be in service - the Scottish routes currently have a maximum speed of 100 mph - and whether the tilt would be used is unknown. (There is around 28 miles of 100 mph running between Edinburgh and Aberdeen and 28 between Glasgow and Perth but only 3 miles between Perth and Inverness; there used to be more.) As far as we know, no calculations have been done in respect of potential journey time reductions that could be achieved by Voyagers to the northern cities. Looking at the route from Aberdeen to Leuchars, the only place where comparisons can presently be made, there is little difference between Voyager, High Speed Train (HST) and class 170 timings but obviously, there would be a need for a full evaluation should Voyagers ever enter squadron service in Scotland. When the East Coast timetable was revised in May, 2011, the two-hourly extension of services from King's Cross beyond Edinburgh to Glasgow Central was discontinued. Instead, Arriva CrossCountry extends its Edinburgh terminators through to Glasgow every two hours; these are mostly formed by non-tilting Voyagers. The latter TOC rediagrammed its fleet to make provision for this in the December, 2010 timetable which meant that there was a spare Voyager for five months. FoFNL drew this to the attention of Transport Scotland and suggested that trials take place on the Highland Main Line but, other than us being told it was "interesting", nothing happened. Earlier this year, the DfT cancelled a proposal for "eVoyagers". This was a scheme to add an additional vehicle to some or all of the Virgin and CrossCountry Voyagers (and their Meridian cousins on East Midland Trains) which would have included the necessary equipment to enable them to operate as electric trains under the wires and would at the same time have provided additional seating accommodation. It had backing from Bombardier, who built them and who originally proposed the scheme; Alstom, who supplied the electrical equipment; the ROSCO and the TOCs. The DfT said that one of the reasons it had been cancelled was that it would have been too expensive to adapt Edinburgh Waverley to accommodate two coupled together: 12 x 23m vehicles. The cynics suggested that it was because the DfT "hadn't invented it." Two 6-car mini-Pendolinos would be exactly the same length. FNE 56 (May, 2012) carried an article suggesting the use of reduced formation HSTs for the Scottish Inter-City routes.
In August, a local newspaper launched a campaign to raise the speed limit for lorries on the single-carriageway sections of the A9 between Dunkeld and Inverness from 40 to 50 mph. This followed an announcement in July by the Minister for Transport and Veterans, Keith Brown, that average-speed cameras were to be installed. There was a predictable response from the motoring fraternity complaining that they would no longer be able to break the speed limit, although they failed to mention that this is actually illegal. If a train driver exceeds the permitted speed, he is liable to disciplinary action and could even be removed from his job. It was stated that journey time increases would hit the economy and potentially cause a rise in frustration-related accidents. The newspaper said that business leaders, the haulage industry and politicians are backing its campaign. Sadly, no suggestion has been made that the parallel railway also needs upgrading. One freight train can carry the same load as many lorries.