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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

Line for all seasons - Part 2

In this issue we read Richard's suggestions for improvements. (Part 1 was in the last newsletter)

New station at Dalcross Airport

This has been the subject of a planning application by HITRANS who had identified funding for the project. HITRANS's capital funding has now been reallocated to councils as part of the freeze on the council tax. This new station would provide a link to the airport from the rail network and would be particularly useful to those coming from the Moray direction where bus connections are not so well developed. It might also provide a park and ride facility for commuters and shoppers going in to Inverness thus ameliorating some of the congestion on the eastern approaches to Inverness. It is envisaged that there would be a half hourly service of commuter trains on this stretch of the line.

New loop or double track to Dalcross Airport

It is envisaged that the new station for the airport would have two platforms and a loop so that trains can pass each other. It would make a good deal of sense to redouble the line from Inverness to Dalcross so that in the event of late running inbound services, departures from Inverness need no longer be held up because the line is single track.

Bring stations and loops together at Forres and Keith

At both of these places there is a single platform station and the passing loop is a short distance away. This causes problems when late running occurs and one train has to wait out in the loop with passengers being kept waiting to alight or board. To marry the two together makes good sense.

Provide a new loop between Elgin and Keith

This is the longest stretch of line with trains unable to pass. The 18 mile journey takes 20 to 22 minutes. This means that the line is just unable to accommodate three trains per hour on this stretch. Oh for the luxury of double track! The preferred site for a reinstated loop is at Orton on the west bank of the River Spey.

Reinstate double track westwards from Kittybrewster

Double track at the eastern end of the line is needed to allow trains to cross each other on the busier section out from Aberdeen. Whether it should be relaid out as far as Dyce or Inverurie, or farther still depends on the extent of the programme of Aberdeen "crossrail" commuter trains being developed. The line was originally double track for the whole of the 53 miles from Aberdeen to Keith. It is no longer feasible to redouble the first mile and a half out to Kittybrewster because of the clearances needed for freight trains in the tunnels under Woolmanhill.

Improve passenger connection between Dyce Station and Aberdeen Airport

It is unfortunate that the Aberdeen airport terminal was moved away from Dyce to the other side of the runway in the 1960s. The subsequent bus and taxi services have never worked seamlessly and this issue needs to be addressed.

Extend platform lengths at Elgin and Insch

Elgin and Insch stations will only accommodate a five coach train. There are plans to lengthen them so that six car trains may run on the line easing congestion at peak times.

Modernise the signalling systems and upgrade line speeds

Retrenchment of the rail business in the sixties and seventies has left us with a low tech, costs pared to the bone, railway which is seriously inappropriate for the growth of today. At least the need for a signalman to cycle the half mile length of the platform at Nairn has been removed in recent years. However, the trains still have to slow to collect or surrender the old fashioned signalling tokens at signal boxes outside Forres and Elgin. There is plenty of scope for a modern signalling system to be installed and allow the journey to be speeded up. Improved track would also permit faster running.

Improve facilities for freight

Freight services on the line are currently minimal. Happily, the track gauge has recently been improved between Aberdeen and Elgin to permit larger modern containers to be carried. In view of the limited clearances in Killiecrankie tunnel on the Perth to Inverness route, it would be useful to extend the gauge enhancement work westward from Elgin so that the larger containers might reach Inverness via Aberdeen.

Diageo are creating a huge new whisky distillery at Roseisle on the branch from Alves to Burghead. There is great potential for whisky and supermarket traffic to be sent by rail.

Timber is another commodity which the line could usefully carry. The Norbord factory on the outskirts of Inverness consumes a lot of timber. It needs to replace its rail siding so that it could receive logs and despatch its finished product. There are plenty of trees reaching maturity in Aberdeenshire and Moray to provide future business.

Provide comfortable trains

Plans to upgrade the Inverness to Perth line are much further advanced and there are hopes that an hourly passenger train frequency will be introduced around 2012. Faster journey times of 2 hours 45 minutes from Inverness to Edinburgh depend on the introduction of more powerful train sets. These could be integrated with the Edinburgh-Aberdeen and Aberdeen-Inverness services.

Provide an extra service now

An Aberdeen arrival for 09.30 for business purposes has long been sought. At present there are no arrivals from Moray or Inverness between 08.15 and 10.53. The current single track limitations would dictate a wait of some 20 minutes at Keith, but such a service would be valuable and it is to be hoped that it might be provided.

Possible new station at Inverness Retail Park

Road access to the retail park is congested. The railway lies on the other side of the busy A96. For the longer term, it has been suggested the line be diverted to join with the Inverness-Perth railway near the southern extremity of the park. A station there would give easier access. Another idea would be to use the railway corridor in to Inverness for an additional light rail or tram service direct to the park via a bridge over the A96.

These are merely ideas for the future.

Richard Ardern