GRIP - Richard Ardern Contemplates the Process
It is wonderful to see a GRIP 4 (Single Option Development) document for a Highland line at long, long last.
The GRIP 4 is included with the planning application for the proposed new two platform station at Dalcross to be known as Inverness Airport Station. Two platforms means there will be a passing loop, but sadly only a little over half a mile long; not a dynamic loop where trains can cross on the move.
Once a project gets as far as planning permission, GRIP 5 stage cannot be far away. The Dalcross application postulates a favourable-wind completion date around Christmas 2022. But I mustn't get carried away. HITRANS started developing the project in 2005. [17 years ago, and counting!]
Long and bitter experience tells me that rail projects often overrun their time - time after time. Recently, I reread my Chairman's report to the FoFNL AGM on 20 November 2004. It said:
The Chairman went on to comment on some of the ideas in the [FoFNL] policy document...the single track nature of our lines makes them incredibly difficult to operate...It is amazing and terribly disappointing that such an obvious enhancement as the Orton Loop on the Inverness to Aberdeen line has still not got the green light after 10 years. [26 years now!]
We did see a GRIP 2 engineering study shared by Transport Scotland in March 2011 which gave a timeline for completion of the whole Aberdeen to Inverness project (an hourly frequency with journey times of just two hours) by February 2017.*
With a change of Transport Minister, the project eventually re-emerged with completion extended to 2030. [36 years now!] Phase 1 which gave us Forres station and the Inverurie redoubling, but not the Orton Loop, was completed in 2019.
Hopefully we shall see GRIP 4 and GRIP 5 documents for the much-needed, preferably dynamic, loop at Lentran on the Far North Line in, (or shortly after), the Finance Secretary's budget announcement on 28 January.
This line has also suffered in the funding stakes as the then First Minister's 2008 promises of significantly improved journey times between Inverness and Edinburgh/Glasgow have still not been realised. The promised increase in frequency has largely been honoured but at the expense of greater congestion because of long stretches of single track. [13 years so far...]. Indeed as early as mid-2009 the Transport Scotland Board was having to defer an offer of funding authorisation from the Office of Rail Regulation for the HML project presumably because they already had their hands full with EGIP and other projects.
The latest plans for the railways to take account of the Climate Change Emergency propose Decarbonisation of the railway by 2035. It is impossible not to note that that is only 14 years away! It is now a political requirement. Hopefully there is a realisation of just how much this involves such that plans are afoot to staff-up Network Rail to cope and to reassemble the Rail Industry electrification teams and their infrastructure contractors for this massive and necessary undertaking.
Finance is always a problem, but the general consensus for the post pandemic period is that construction projects are one of the best ways of stimulating the economy and providing a strong base for the future. There should be plenty of jobs to be had and massive demand for materials.
There is a huge challenge for the Scottish Government and the industry here. We hope they will enjoy getting to GRIPS with it.