The wait continues. There is no announcement yet of the CP5 stage of enhancements to the Highland Main Line (HML) and improvements to passenger and freight services by 2019. The longer the delay, the shorter the time scale for all that has to be done to modernise the line so that it can effectively compete with the new situation once the A9 is dualled by 2025. We do not want a situation where the deadline to complete a modern fit-for-purpose railway is missed and the project extended over yet more phases. We do have some clues as to what is in mind. The draft Scotland Route Study suggests that the loops at Aviemore and Pitlochry are to be extended to allow simultaneous arrivals in opposite directions and become the regular crossing places for the hourly passenger trains. But what about freight? Are there to be no long crossing loops such as at Ballinluig or elsewhere or no double tracking of uphill sections?
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce has called the continued existence of single track railways between Scotland's cities "unacceptable". It is certainly a contrast with the discussions that have been going on about bringing HS2 to Scotland. Surely it would be appropriate to complete a highish speed route as far as Perth along the Kinross corridor which would reduce the Edinburgh to Perth and Inverness timings by 30 minutes on what can currently be achieved? HS2 through trains could then run further north. A feasibility study of this direct link was included in the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.
The Chambers of Commerce have been instrumental in calling for business arrivals in all cities by, or soon after 09:00. Inverness is currently not reached until 10:27. Hopefully, the new EGIP timetable (incorporating the two extra HML trains each way by 2018/9) will already have factored in departures from Inverness, Edinburgh and Glasgow at around 6 am to achieve this. Plugging the 11:45 departure gap from Inverness would offer a safety net when the 06:18 from Wick is delayed and passengers miss the tight connection with the 10:45. Northbound, providing a 15:35 back from Edinburgh would be particularly useful, getting many people home in time for their evening meal.