The Inverness to Aberdeen line is blooming marvellous just now with the whin (or gorse, if you prefer) at its best particularly on either side of Nairn. Enhancement work at Forres has taken great strides. The new road overbridge at Forres Station is under construction with the earth ramps on either side looking fairly complete.
New track is being laid. 1200 tonnes of ballast have been brought in by road and 2500 concrete sleepers laid and 2000 steel sleepers reutilised. 4,230 metres of troughing has been laid and 4.2km of cable used. 2,500 tonnes of spoil were taken away by rail.
Work continues too at Elgin, not least at the Wards level crossing, with a further weekend closure on 25 May. The main bulk of the work, including resignalling, will be done during a 10 day blockade commencing Friday 6 October. 6,000 letters have been delivered to lineside neighbours within 500 metres of the line in Aberdeen and Dyce ahead of further site investigation works there from the end of April.
Building works to double the size of the Norbord wood processing factory at Morayhill are well advanced with the new building line seemingly too close to the railway to allow for a siding in addition to the much-needed redoubling of the line between inverness and Dalcross airport. The factory was originally built with a siding and it is hoped that one can be provided to accept timber from Kinbrace on the FNL (under HITRANS's Branchliner project) and to allow despatch of the finished products.
Transport Scotland and Network Rail are developing a Scotland-wide Rail Projects Portal which will provide updates on major projects. In the interim I am told that NR provide regular updates via the project twitter feed (@NetworkRailA2I). At the end of February the proposed station at Inverness Airport (Dalcross) received planning permission for a single platform initially.
A latent demand for more frequent services and an Aberdeen to Inverness journey time of two hours or less was apparent over twenty years ago in the 1994 proposals to modernise the line. Additional passenger services have been added but only at the cost of even slower journeys due to the long sections of single track.
Buoyant passenger numbers in the past decade have highlighted how many more passengers would use the line regularly if there was an even interval hourly service from end to end, impossible without more doubling than is currently being carried out.
Prospects for new freight flows for the whisky and timber industries are also good. It is therefore vital that enhancements in CP6 provide the capacity for hourly end to end passenger services with paths for freight trains also. Such work will also help towards providing the faster journey times to maintain the railway's current advantage over the road.