"The current passenger journey times (around 2 hours 25 minutes) and irregular service (every 2 hours) between Aberdeen and Inverness means that it does not offer an attractive alternative to road travel" Transport Scotland website.
Some of the improvements identified in British Rail's prescient discussion paper of 1994 are now starting to happen. Earthworks are ongoing at Forres for the more efficient new station and road crossing, the new footbridge with lifts is open at Elgin and advance work on doubling the line on the approaches to Aberdeen is scheduled to start in February under new financial arrangements. Modern signalling controlled from Inverness was, and is, also envisaged. As also identified in 1994, the next pressing requirements are for a dynamic passing loop between Keith and Elgin and double track in the Dalcross area.
The Office of Road and Rail has published another Network Rail Monitor for Scotland 1 April to 15 October 2016 following an efficiency review of the Aberdeen to Inverness project and now expects NR to agree the phasing of outputs with Transport Scotland (TS) to a revised completion date extended by six months to September 2019. The considerable increase in costs "was primarily due to increased compliance work for track and civils and additional scope to accommodate freight access rights". ORR has set a new "efficient cost baseline" for the project but the Monitor does not reveal what this is.
The start of new rail enhancement work is always to be welcomed. Sometimes there can be a downside too, such as a finite period of disruption to normality while the work is carried out. One such period will be upon us from 8 January when work begins on the Aberdeen approaches. The 21:33 last Inverness to Aberdeen train will leave at 20:38 on Mondays to Thursdays inclusive and at 20:42 on Sundays.
"This will give a much better connection for passengers from the Far North Line but will have consequences for passengers for Nairn, Forres and Elgin who are used to getting home from the south via the Highland Main Line services. A Nairn arrival at 23:57 via Aberdeen is unattractive compared with the normal 21:48". STOP PRESS ScotRail will provide a set-down-only bus connection from the HML trains to Nairn, Forres and Elgin at around 21:30 from Inverness M-ThO.
The new timetable shows that the majority of trains will no longer have first class accommodation. This is because of the decision to refurbish the Inverness class 158s first before the less comfortable Haymarket fleet is tackled. Only the Inverness ones had first class provision which was retained especially for the Inverness to Aberdeen line market.
A new website is being developed to which users of the line may subscribe: