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

Traffic Surveys

carried out by the CarlBro Group on behalf of Highlands and Islands Enterprise

Tain Commuter Service

The Tain service carries around 90 people, with an average of 83 arriving in Inverness, and the remainder making intermediate journeys. Most passengers boarded at Muir of Ord and Beauly (between 50 and 60 daily). The bulk of users are regular travellers going to work, with a number of students also travelling. The service has opened up new employment and educational opportunities for a quarter of passengers on the service, which would not have been possible without the introduction on the commuter train service. 73% were travelling to work and 23% were travelling to college. 92% of passengers were in employment (full time or part time) with 8% full time students.

The majority of people (61%) walked to the station, with 35% arriving by car (15% as drivers and 29% as passengers). Even more people walked at the end of their journey (84%), but a small number used the bus in Inverness (6%).

The limited train services north from Inverness in the afternoon resulted in only 72% of people returning by train with 18% getting lifts and 8% using the bus. 27% of the passengers had not made the journey that they were undertaking on the day of the survey prior to the train service becoming available.

The majority of passengers (73%) had changed from other modes of travel, with 27% previously driving themselves, and 14% having been car passengers. 32% had switched from using the bus. A majority of people had access to a car for the journey that they were making (68%), but that leaves a sizable number who did not have access to a car (32%). 53% of passengers had not considered any alternative form of transport for this journey, but 28% had considered car, 11% a taxi (all on short distance journeys) and only 6% considered using the bus. In the absence of the train service on weekdays half of the passengers would use the bus and half would travel by car, with two thirds of the car users driving themselves.

These findings confirm that people are willing to use the train if it meets their needs. Lower cost of travel (84% of responses) convenience, (51%) and speed of journey (40%) were seen as the key attributes of the rail service, with reduction in stress and parking problems also scoring.

Beauly Station

The new station at Beauly has attracted about 30 regular morning commuters, already generating a higher trip rate per head of population than Muir of Ord. As the service has only been available for a year compared with five years at Muir of Ord there is scope for this to increase. About half had previously used the bus and half had travelled to Inverness by car.

The lower cost of rail travel was the key attribute in attracting patronage with 90% of passengers referring to it, and speed of journey also very important with 70% of users referring to this attribute. No-one referred to reliability. There are a significant number of passengers from Beauly who do not return on the evening service, with the bulk of them getting lifts. This is due to the limited service in the afternoon, with no trains from Inverness from the 11.27 departure until 17.30.

The station has developed a wide catchment area with over half walking to the station, but nearly a half arriving by car. There is some indication that people are now choosing to live in Beauly as a result of the rail service, with one person reporting the existence of the train service had influenced their choice of house. Public perception is also starting to change with Beauly appearing in a commuting feature in the "Scotsman" newspaper. There is a wide range of different usage of the off peak services, including journeys to work.


The Tain commuter service has succeeded in encouraging people to change from car based commuting into Inverness to using the train. It has also made available new employment and education opportunities to people living along the route. Journey time and cost have been important factors in persuading people to change to the train. The poor afternoon service from Inverness is resulting in a number of people finding other ways to get home.

Beauly station has been a great success, with 30 peak train users, half of whom have changed from car commuting. The speed of the journey was especially important here, but the effect of the poor afternoon service is more marked, which is encouraging for the proposed Invernet services. Based on the findings for Beauly and Muir of Ord there is a need for a full appraisal to assess the business case for a station at Conon Bridge.

Winter Sunday Train Services

Inverness to Wick Route

Both trains on the route were surveyed on 6 and 27 April 2003.

Total passenger loading were:- 6 April27 April
Wick - Inverness4251
Inverness - Wick5757

The Inverness to Wick (northbound) services were busier on both days. Almost half the journeys were from end to end (taking both Wick and Thurso stations as the north end of the route), with a further third being between Inverness and intermediate stations. 17% of journeys were between intermediate stations and Wick/Thurso and only 7% between two intermediate stations. Only two stations generated no travel at all from the four trains surveyed.

There was an even balance between the genders and a strong bias toward the younger end (up to age 44), with very few passengers over 55. Two thirds of the passengers lived local to the line, with a third coming from Caithness, the majority from Thurso. The remaining passengers split evenly, with half of them coming from Scotland and half from England or abroad.

Nearly two thirds of the passengers were in employment, and a further quarter were students. There was a noticeably a higher proportion of students on the northbound service. Just under half of the passengers did not hold driving licences, but only 29% lived in households that did not own cars.

Over a third, the largest single group, of journeys were made for leisure purposes. A quarter of the passengers were visiting friends and relations. The southbound (Wick to Inverness) trains carried more people travelling for holiday purposes. The largest group (37%) had not travelled on the line before. Conversely nearly a quarter travelled at least once a week, and a similar number travelled once every two or three months. Southbound trains carried more people who had never travelled on the route, whilst the northbound trains carried more once a week passengers. The main access/egress mode was walking, with over a third of the passengers; car was the second with a further third. Connecting train was used by a fifth of the total passengers, but nearly a third of passengers arriving at Inverness used trains for their onward journey. Taxi featured relatively strongly as an access mode (7%), and particularly strongly as an egress mode (15%). Bus was poorly used for access/egress, especially at the northern end of the route. The bulk of passengers made the reverse journey by train (80%), but with significant differences according to direction (89% on southbound trains, 71% on northbound trains). 10% used car and 6% used bus for the reverse journey, but only 2% of passengers were not making a return journey by this route.

The winter Sunday services have generated new travel, with a third of the passengers not having made the journey prior to the new service coming into operation. A quarter had switched from each of car and bus and 17% had previously used a train on a different day. Just over half said that the new service had enabled them to make journeys that they would otherwise not have made. Two thirds of the passengers stated that they would not make the journey if the train were not available, with the remainder using bus or car, as an alternative, in equal proportions. The key reasons for choosing to travel on the train were stated as "convenience", with nearly half the passengers mentioning this factor. Comfort and lower cost were each mentioned by just under a third of passengers. The scenic journey was mentioned by a quarter. However a fifth of the passengers said they had no alternative for the journey. Virtually all the passengers were satisfied with the overall service and 83% were satisfied with the train times.


The new Sunday train service has clearly offered wider choice and created new travel opportunities for a wide range of people, including local residents, but especially younger people. People have switched from car and bus equally and new travel has been generated. However many of them (but not all) have alternative travel options, which they use if the train service is not suitable for their particular needs at the time. Bus is seen as a reasonable alternative to the train, if the train is not suitable for any reason. There was general satisfaction with the service and the times. There were some users who were less satisfied with the inherent compromise in the timetable, with the relatively early departure from Caithness required to secure onward connections at Inverness and the quite late departure from Inverness back to Caithness in order to provide the vital good connections from the south. These connections to the wider rail network on Sunday afternoon has provided much greater access for the people who live along the route.


Given the relatively good loads on the trains it is recommended that the possibility of operating an additional service throughout the year be investigated, thus providing a more suitable service for current users and also attracting new passengers. As two services currently operate in the peak summer season (29 June to 21 September 2003) this service pattern could be operated throughout the year. However due to the conflicting demands of the various groups of travellers it is suggested that a wider review of the times of the Sunday trains service on the route is carried out, including connecting services. In particular the operation of the 20.13 Inverness to Glasgow service on Sundays (possibly in place of the Saturday night service) should be examined to provide better connections from the later Sunday service, with faster journey times if possible.