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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

News From The Central Belt

We reported in Far North Express 57 that much of the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) had apparently been abandoned, although no one in Transport Scotland (TS) seemed to be admitting it. What happens in the Central Belt is important to us because it affects the allocation of rolling stock throughout Scotland. Bit by bit, routes seem to be creeping back in. Inspired by the success last year of electrifying the Paisley Canal line at low-cost - it was this that has enabled the Far North Line to acquire two additional diesel multiple units (DMUs) for strengthening during the Kessock Bridge works - Network Rail announced that it was proposing to do likewise to electrify to Stirling and Alloa as an extension to the on-going works on the Edinburgh - Glasgow main line (E&G). Although details of exactly which routes were to be included were sketchy, this would potentially have released more DMUs for use elsewhere. But, just as we thought it was safe to go back in the water, came a bombshell announcement at the end of March that all was not well with the E&G part of the scheme. Originally, it was proposed that six limited- or non-stop trains would operate each hour between the two cities. This would have been facilitated by some of them running via a new station on the Forth Bridge line called Edinburgh International Gateway serving the airport. A chord would have been built north of the new station, dubbed by some "Almond curve", enabling trains to re-join the E&G east of Linlithgow and continue on to Glasgow. However, this chord was deleted for financial reasons. Under the revised proposals, the present frequency of four fast trains an hour would continue but they would be up to eight cars long rather than six. Platforms at Queen Street are quite short so some of them would have been extended across the concourse. The unexpected announcement was that this work has proved to be much more difficult than originally expected. In addition, Winchburgh Tunnel, between Haymarket and Linlithgow, requires a 12-week closure to deal with water ingress, a long-standing problem. Now, if the Almond curve was there, it would provide a diversionary route but it isn't. The alternative is for trains to reverse at Dalmeny. These two works alone have now apparently pushed the completion date of the E&G electrification and upgrade back from 2016 to 2019. Once again, firm information is difficult to come by as details of the scheme have now been removed from the project website but we are promised by TS that a "new delivery programme will be agreed later this year." All this seems to be operating in a different silo from the HS Scotland proposals referred to below.

Better news is that low-cost electrification is also proposed for the route between Rutherglen and Whifflet, releasing even more DMUs. It's possible that East Kilbride may acquire overhead wires too. We have previously been told that, once the Kessock strengthening is no longer required, it is planned for our two DMUs to return south to be used on the reopened Borders line from Edinburgh to Tweedbank. These are the two units we would like to have retained as they are the additional rolling stock needed to run an hourly service between Inverness and Tain, which is FoFNL policy. However, if the additional patronage due to the bridgeworks is retained, who knows whether they would go back? And, with Alloa, East Kilbride and Whifflet electrification, would they need to?