FoFNL is lobbying hard for the reinstatement of the Lentran Long Loop between Inverness and Muir of Ord. Until the section was singled in 1966 there were six miles of double track between Clachnaharry and Clunes. This part of the FNL is also part of the line to Kyle of Lochalsh and is used by trains traversing the full length of both lines as well as some shorter journeys to Ardgay or Tain. Currently 27 services use the route every day and the lack of places for North- and Southbound trains to pass each other is causing major delays and cancellations very frequently.
Two of the FoFNL documents are reproduced here. The campaign has been picked up in the Inverness Courier which ran a major item on 2nd September outlining the urgency of the situation as passengers are beginning to give up on the line and revert to using their cars. Mention was made of the Inverness City/Region Deal wish list which includes the intention to spend around £100 million on reducing congestion on the A9 north of Inverness. Richard Ardern of FoFNL was quoted outlining the benefits which would accrue from the redoubling including additional services as well as much reduced late-running and train cancellation.
Rhoda Grant and David Stewart MSPs are giving the campaign vocal support and have written to the Scottish Government Transport Minister, Derek Mackay MSP, asking that funds from the Inverness City/Region Deal and the Scottish Government are used to reintroduce the Lentran loop ahead of preliminary planning for the next rail infrastructure development period, CP6, which starts on 1st April 2019.
In response to a parliamentary question from David Stewart in June 2015 the Transport Minister, Derek Mackay MSP, said that the redoubling was an "interesting proposal" to improve the rail network to the far north.
This is the paper submitted by FoFNL at the Highland Council meeting in Inverness on 3rd Sept 2015 for discussion under Item 11, City/Region Deal:
1 This paper seeks inclusion of a project to redouble the 6 miles of track between Clachnaharry and Clunes (Kirkhill) through Lentran and thus remove the major bottleneck which has prevented the operation of more trains to the north and west of Inverness.
2 The benefits of the Lentran Loop Project would be the ability to run:
3 The need for City/Region Deal finance priming stems from the number of higher profile rail schemes which are only now starting to reach the Highlands and which have higher priority such as the Highland Main Line and Inverness-Aberdeen line capacity, speed and electrification projects. These have already been delayed and broken in to phases because Scottish Government capital budgets have been reduced and have had to be used, unexpectedly, for the new Queensferry road crossing.
4 Both Moir Lockhead CEO of First Group and (recently) Mike Carne CEO of Network Rail said, on taking over rail responsibilities, that "priority will be given to enhancements which benefit the largest number of people".
5 This is where the Highlands and Islands keep losing out. Projects go ahead in the Central Belt of Scotland. We are at the end of the queue and newer projects leap in ahead of us.
6 This sort of scenario is just what the City/Region Deal is designed to assist and it seems to us that it may be the only way in which the congestion on the railway north of Inverness may be removed.
7 There is an exact parallel with the situation on the A9 north of Inverness. To ease congestion a flyover is now being proposed for the Longman Roundabout on the A9 taking traffic over the Kessock Bridge.
8 Although the numbers using the road are greater, it is rare that road users arrive a whole hour late which is what is happening on the trains.
9 Government and Highland Council policy is to encourage greater use of sustainable, greener public transport such as the railway in order to reduce carbon emissions.
10 Without the dynamic passing loop through Lentran, the railway cannot provide the extra services detailed above. These would help support the low carbon initiatives of the Council.
11 The Lentran Loop Project would help to grow the economy and social inclusion of Inverness and the Highlands fitting in with:
12 All three railway lines to the city of Inverness suffer from a chronic lack of capacity as they have long sections of single track with sometimes infrequent passing loops.
13 Traffic has grown substantially on the Far North Line over the past ten years with the Invernet initiatives of reopened stations (such as Beauly), extra commuting services and a fourth train each way each day between Inverness and Caithness.
14 In the past eighteen months there have been problems sustaining punctuality of these services due to the congested nature of the line. A few passengers have decided to go back to their cars because of this.
15 The situation needs to be retrieved and the line allowed to expand its valuable services. There is currently a Network Rail working party looking at the options but Network Rail is having great difficulty in advancing enhancements on the rural lines throughout Britain.
16 Helping to fund the Lentran Loop capacity and signalling scheme through the City/Regional Deal would be an appropriate use of such funds and a way to advance completion of the scheme by many years.
This is a FoFNL paper designed to bring the issue of the Lentran Long Loop to the attention of MSPs and ministers:
The case for reinstating a loop through Lentran
Scottish Parliament 18 June 2015 Question S4W-26050
David Stewart MSP. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will consider the construction of a length of re-doubled track at Lentran, north of Inverness, to allow for the passing of trains in order to reduce congestion and improve the rail service north of Inverness?
Derek Mackay (Minister for Transport and Islands). That is an interesting proposal, which we will of course be mindful of, as we seek to improve our rail network in the north of the country.
Who would like to be stuck in their car or lorry for an hour waiting to cross the Kessock Bridge on the A9 north of Inverness? Long delays are becoming increasingly common and the Scottish Government is looking at providing a flyover at the Longman Roundabout in Inverness, the source of much of this congestion.
Delays of one hour there would be unusual, but they are routinely happening on the railway line north from Inverness. Here capacity is also the problem. The railway line is single track and there is no longer any passing place for the 13 miles between Inverness and Muir of Ord. Trains are restricted to 10 mph over the Caledonian Canal swing bridge at Clachnaharry and, due also to speed restrictions over level crossings, the timetable allows 20 minutes for this short journey leg.
This part of the line is operating at capacity at certain times of the day and there is no flexibility for trains that are running late. When the 06.18 from Wick is more than 10 minutes late at Dingwall it loses its slot at Muir of Ord, and has to wait there for an hour until the trains from Inverness to Wick and to Kyle of Lochalsh have come through in the opposite direction. Instead of reaching Inverness at 10.38 it does not arrive until 11.40 and passengers miss their connections to Edinburgh and to Aberdeen.
Trains have to be "flighted" like this to achieve connections at Inverness. Two services arrive from Glasgow and Aberdeen around 10.30 and the above trains are the onward connections to the north and the west. The 06.18's scheduled arrival is similarly carefully timed to make connections to Aberdeen and to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Passenger numbers on the Far North Line have been steadily increasing and more trains are running to cater for the demand. The flexibility in operating single track railways is always very limited because trains have to pass each other in strategically placed loops. What was once operationally acceptable with a lower level of traffic eventually becomes impossible to manage without greater line capacity and that is the stage the Far North Line has now reached. It is a success story which needs investment in more loops and nowhere more so than on that initial congested section between Inverness and Muir of Ord which is shared by both the Wick and the Kyle line services.
There used to be a six mile section of double track from Clachnaharry to Clunes until the 1960s. A short passing loop was left at Lentran until 1984 when it was swept away to simplify the introduction of radio signalling.
The formation for the double track is still in situ except at Phopachy where a new single track bridge was built over the A862. Thus it would be quite straightforward to relay track. A new single track bridge would be needed and a 60 mph powered point and signalling at the Clunes end. While not inexpensive the cost would be a small fraction of the amount spent in re-opening Borders Rail.
Because of the congestion caused by lack of line capacity there is very limited scope to run extra freight or charter trains. Both have great potential which is not able to be realised. There are masses of timber to come out of the north and the liquefied gas supplies to Caithness would be much safer on the railway. The scenic reputation of both lines leads to a demand for lucrative charter trains which is not being met. Due to the congestion, the only charter paths are at 06.30 and 11.15 from Inverness.
The 06.18 from Wick had a much longer wait than usual on 2 July when it did not arrive at Inverness until 12.07, over 90 minutes late. Although it was only some 25 minutes late at Dingwall, it presumably also had to wait at Muir of Ord for an outgoing special train of some kind as well as for the two service trains.
It is difficult to imagine the substantial inconvenience to all the 51 passengers on that train. The FNL is being strangled by its own success because the extra capacity needed has not yet been supplied. Delays have become endemic and passengers have been walking away. The line is in crisis and needs investment to play its full role in providing sustainable transport and limiting some of the carbon emissions which increase as more traffic is forced on to the road.
These delays are on top of the end to end timetable having been lengthened four times in the last 10 years. It now takes almost 4 hours and 20 minutes from Inverness to Wick. In 2004 it was 3 hours 52 minutes. John Ellis, Managing Director of ScotRail, said at the 1995 conference on the future of the line that his ultimate aim was for "a three hour journey time". Why has the service been allowed to become so much slower and why is it still struggling to keep to the timetable?
Yes, Minister, the much needed Lentran Loop is indeed "an interesting proposal" and it should appear in Network Rail's enhancement plans for Control Period 6. We hope that you will ensure that it forms part of the HLOS in due course. The Borders and the Central Belt have benefited from large railway expenditure in recent years: it's surely the turn of the more distant Highlands now.