Building on what has now been achieved:
There is very good news in the new December 2019 timetable for the line between Inverness and Aberdeen. The aim is to have an hourly frequency of trains taking on, or under, 2 hours to complete the journey between the cities.
With average journey times currently towards 2 hours 20 minutes (46 mph), the following trains are worthy of note
This is part of the dividend from the relocation of Forres station, improvements at Elgin, redoubling of track from Inverurie to within a mile of Aberdeen, and improvements to signalling.
However, sadly some of the trains still take much longer because of the shackles of the single track. Many of the notes in the timetable advise of earlier arrivals and long waits for a path forward. The 09:01 from Inverness waits for 11 minutes at Elgin and the 13:43 from Aberdeen waits for 13 minutes at Elgin. The 108 mile journey with 7 intermediate stops at an average, including stops, of 52 mph is hardly speedy progress. Time waiting in stations or in loops such as Keith Loop to pass trains going in the other direction is time wasted.
Kintore and Inverness Airport (Dalcross) stations will add two more stops. One of the reasons for improving the railway at Forres was to compensate for the extra time which will be spent stopping at Dalcross. With the increase in trains from 45 to 76 [three trains per hour] each weekday following the redoubling of the track from Inverurie to Aberdeen, it would seem hardly necessary now to have all the Inverness trains stop at Kintore when it opens in May.
News of submission of the planning application from Transport Scotland for the proposed two platform station at Dalcross is still awaited.
The extra daytime services introduced in December 2018 between Inverness and Elgin are very welcome, but I suspect usage has been held back by lack of reliability. They have suffered cancellations when crew shortages have happened and the same is true of some of the new Inverurie to Montrose services through Aberdeen.
It is much quicker by train between Inverness and Elgin. The bus takes twice as long at 80 minutes and by car 50 to 60 minutes. The train should be on to a winner, now that the frequency is hourly.
One service is missing though. It is an 08:05 from Inverness which could be a commuter service for the many people who live in the Inverness area and work in Nairn, Forres or Elgin. If it were continued through to arrive at Aberdeen at about 10:20, it would sort the problem of there being no arrival there between 09:30 and 11:22 from stations such as Insch, Huntly, Keith, Elgin and beyond all the way from Inverness.
The restrictive single track nature of the Aberdeen to Inverness line has long made it difficult to operate sufficient services at times when non commuting passengers most want to travel. This tends to be outwards after breakfast and home in time for tea. A return service from Aberdeen at around 16:25 would usefully fill the current gap between the busy 15:25 and 17:20 services north to Insch and all stations to Inverness.
Doubling the tracks from Aberdeen to Inverurie is only the start of improving track capacity along this line. Following British Rail proposals in 1994 and 1996, Network Rail produced a 70 page "Aberdeen to Inverness Rail Improvement" document no 116647 in 2010 and subsequently an outline timescale to do all the work by February 2017.
The Achilles Heel of the line is the long 22 minute single line section between Keith Loop and Elgin station. I hope all the required work has since been firmed up such that the proposed intermediate passing loop at Orton is now "shovel ready" for the financial green light! Taken together with the long loop now promised through the new two platform Dalcross station we have a chance of seeing the hourly service pattern realised with, hopefully, some freight and diversionary paths too. Both Norbord timber and the whisky industry have now run trial freight services.
There are so many opportunities for this line, not least as a connection to and from the Far North Line. Let us make the Aberdeen to Inverness line fit for purpose to release its obvious potential!