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

The Case for Rail in the Highlands and Islands

This Report presents a summary of the findings of a study undertaken by Steer Davies Gleave, commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to establish the economic, social and environmental benefits derived from the rail network in the Highlands and Islands. The core of the study was concerned with economic impacts, but also the value of social and environmental impacts.

This Study has identified a range of benefits that the railways bring to the Highlands and Islands by quantifying the negative impacts that would occur in the absence of a rail network. The rail network plays five principal roles which are significant for the economic, environment and social well being of the Highlands and Islands:

Passenger Rail Demand

Rail demand within the Highlands and Islands has grown over the last five years, particularly on the Far North Line, where patronage has increased by around 50% since 1997. Patronage on the Kyle Line has increased by just under 40%, by 35% on the Highland Main Line, 13% on the Aberdeen to Inverness Line and 20% on the West Highland Line. Overall patronage on day rail services across the ScotRail network has increased by 37% since 1997.

The general trend has been upwards and it is expected that rail demand will continue to grow. Approximately 1.3 million passenger journeys originated in the Highlands and Islands in 2002-2003, just under two percent of all passenger journeys originating in Scotland (62.2 million).

Survey Findings

A survey of train passengers travelling on ScotRail services to, from, or within the Highlands and Islands was undertaken by Steer Davies Gleave between 21st August 2003 and 22nd September 2003. A total of 941 questionnaires were completed in face-to- face interviews on board day trains in the Highlands and Islands area. A further 408 interviews were undertaken with passengers on the Fort William and Inverness sleeper services.


The ability to commute by rail within the Highlands and Islands has increased substantially over the last few years. This is especially the case in the Inverness area due to the:

In terms of social inclusion, access to employment and education opportunities as well as leisure activities are important elements of everyday life for residents within local communities in the Highlands and Islands. Access to activities such as shopping, restaurants and cinemas are important for the development of sustainable rural communities. However, many people living in remote areas require to travel significant distances in order to access these facilities, for which the rail network is an important facilitator, particularly for young and elderly people who do not have ready access to private cars.

Sleeper Services

The sleeper service is important to Highland and Islands resident business travellers as it provides an opportunity to travel overnight to London, conduct a day's business and return the following day. The attraction of the sleeper service is that it should allow users to make more productive use of their time by travelling overnight. Similarly, the link exists for customers, suppliers and other company locations to make visits to the Highlands and Islands more easily.


Movement of goods by road would increase in the absence of rail: an extra 7.3 million lorry road miles and more than 25,000 lorry loads.

Social Impacts

Rail is important for people wishing to undertake social or leisure trips, as well as accessing employment opportunities and travelling on business. Access to educational opportunities within the region and outside it (e.g. Central Belt) is also important. Salient points are:

The main body of the report carried many facts and figures and the following statistics for passenger numbers are of interest.

Single passenger journeys year 2002/3:
Inverness +700,000 Elgin +190,000
Fort William 108,000 Oban +100,000
Forres +76,000 Nairn 74,000
Aviemore +70,000 Mallaig 64,000
Keith 63,000 Kyle of Lochalsh 41,000
Thurso +37,000 Dingwall 32,000
Kingussie 23,000 Muir of Ord 23,000
Beauly +22,000 Wick +19,000
Tain 11,000 Plockton 8,000
Strathcarron 8,000 Taynuilt 7,500
Garve +7,000 Corrour +5,000

In addition, Golspie has a flow of more than 3,000 Shearings passengers on journeys to Wick.