Friends of the Far North Line are aware that there are plans being discussed for the redevelopment of Inverness Station. This Report is intended to give a snapshot of the facilities provided on one day in 2015, thus giving an insight into what changes and improvements might be incorporated when redevelopment takes place. Indeed, some of our recommendations could - should - be implemented before then.
Generally the provision of passenger and public facilities on the station itself is good. The train information board was replaced some years ago and is a great improvement. Metal seating (cold and uncomfortable) is provided on the concourse and in a heated, if spartan, waiting room (equipped with a HELP button). The station is brighter and more attractive following a major cleaning of the glass roof. There are automated ticket machines and a pre-paid collection machine. There is an ATM which charges - this is no longer acceptable practice in such a location, and this machine should be replaced by a bank one carrying out this vital function without charge. There is a bar and a separate buffet; there is a well-stocked bookstall and a barber's shop; there are left luggage facilities and a lost property office; there is a BTP office which displays a contact number when it is unstaffed. There are photo booths and a kiddies' ride. All these are welcome and provide the sort of things which passengers expect to see at a main station.
Alas these passengers are obliged to suffer the indignities visited upon them by the insistence of Transport Scotland that gated barriers be installed. This was doubtless done as a box-ticking exercise by someone with no working knowledge of the layout and daily practice of Inverness station. The structure of the building necessitates two separate gated areas: Platforms 1 and 2; and Platforms 3 to 6. There is no access between the two gated areas: one must be exited and the other entered. Consequently when a train from the south arrives at P1 or P2 any passenger with a tight connection (and not all trains on the Highland Main Line run perfectly to time) to Aberdeen, Wick or Kyle has to sprint (and be lucky) or miss the connection. In practice of course the sensible platform staff (who have learned how to work the system for maximum passenger benefit and minimum staff stress) lock the gates open at such times. A demonstration that installing gates at Inverness was and is daft, and a waste of precious resources. There is of course no gate for Platform 7. Too difficult.
Whereas Class 158 DMUs now have Controlled-emission toilets (CETs) (and Class 170s always had them) the track bed is still befouled with toilet waste on Platforms 1 and 2 where the HST Highland Chieftain continues to discharge waste (despite notices in each toilet). It is thought that not all these discharges are at the hands of passengers. The Sleeper, which also uses Platform 1 and 2, has CETs, so the soil would appear to come from one train a day in each direction. Track beds at other platforms were littered with food waste and packaging - all of which is probably tidied routinely. However the underlying track bed itself appears in a poor state with much soiling from diesel and general muck. While no train passes over this track at more than walking pace it is nevertheless unsightly, even if probably safe.
The difficulties (apart from the gates) at Inverness lie outside the station and are largely outwith the railway's ability to bring about change. Much information about buses - location, timetables - is wrong, and exhibited in the wrong places. The digital bus information screen was not working. The Plan Your Journey screen bears inaccurate information about buses (reported to FSR and Transport Scotland in 2014, but to no avail). Cycle storage is good, in contrast to car parking which is dire. The Short Stay (adjacent to Platform 1) is inadequate, with only 13 spaces (one for disabled) and only one "drop-off" space. Planning application promised 22 spaces, but the rest are chained off apart from 2 used by Shopmobility buses. The turning circle is tight for cars and is frequently blocked. It is impossible for rail replacement buses to turn - surely the obvious and most passenger-friendly place for them to be. Cars are often parked here, sometimes on the pavement. As well as being a hazard for wheelchairs (and others) this is unlawful. The other car park (for which a charge is made) is reached along Platform 6 and passengers have to negotiate puddles - some so large as to be unavoidable in heavy rain [see cover photo]. There are 42 spaces (including 3 disabled); one is used by BTP.
If redevelopment plans go ahead we hope that these parking criticisms will be heeded, and more useful arrangements put in place. We have no objection to there being reasonable charges, but the short-stay provision, which must be free, must be greater. At a station where late-arriving trains are common we question whether 20 minutes is the right upper limit for short-stay parking. We suggest 60 minutes until such time as trains routinely arrive at Inverness within 10 minutes of their due time on at least 95% of occasions.