scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

2008 Survey of Far North Line Delays

One of the characteristics of the Far North Line is that when a delay occurs it can affect the service for the rest of the day. This is because the line is single track and there are variable, sometimes very long, distances between passing loops.

The FoFNL Committee has been concerned for some time about the number of train failures and signalling faults that have been affecting the performance of services on the line. Throughout 2008 we have been recording all the incidents of which we became aware. We have now done an initial assessment of performance during the 49 weeks of the last timetable from 1 January until 13 December 2008.

It must be clearly understood that the results are only a pointer to what has been happening. They give some idea that the scale of the problem might be anything upwards from say 1.5 times as much as this. We do not have full data to know how many train delays there were, nor do we know the total delay minutes caused and how these are apportioned. We recorded 190 delays:

Train faults 65
Signalling faults 32
Points/track faults 7
Staff shortages 11
Consequential delays 52
Unknown or outwith railway control eg obstructions 23
Train faults 34.2%
Network Rail faults 20.5%
Staff shortages 5.8%
Consequential delays 27.5%

This gives a frequency of recorded delays (unknown fraction of actual) of 4 per week. Removing the consequential delays reveals an average of 3 direct causal incidents per week.

We know that the Invernet services are often sacrificed when FSR is short of a unit at Inverness. Eleven Invernet services were cancelled throughout as were 13 Wickers (most frequently the 08.13 WCK-INV). In addition to this there were a further 11 occasions when the train did not call at Thurso due to late running.

We already knew that passengers suffer delays (sometimes long delays) and missed connections several times most weeks. We knew anecdotally that passengers' confidence in the service is diminished by this and that this includes the regular users such as the commuters who probably contribute the most as individuals to the line's revenue.

Having got some measure of the problems over a whole year, the Committee is to contact FSR and Network Rail to ask if some improvements can be made. Although the 158 fleet is ageing rapidly, and the faults are many and varied (ranging from a defective horn to flat batteries or a loss of coolant), we think it likely that performance can be improved even if it means stationing a fitter at Wick or having them travel on the trains. Whether NR can improve the performance of the RETB system is more difficult to assess. It is obsolete and long overdue for replacement.

The survey has shown to our satisfaction that it is high time to start planning the future investment for the next decade. A replacement for RETB is urgent. Increased line capacity can best be gained by reducing the distances between loops. This is already critical between Inverness and Dingwall and we are calling for the reinstatement of some of the former double track between Clachnaharry and Clunes including the former Lentran loop. The 158s cannot go on for ever so it is also time to start designing a new train especially for the longer rural tourist lines and in time for the next franchise. We trust that Transport Scotland will engage with us over these urgent imperatives.