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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

Highland Rail Vision

On 3rd March, Transform Scotland launched its Inter-City Express campaign (not to be confused with the Department for Transport's InterCity Express Programme, which refers to new trains). Inter-City Express is a joint campaign set up by Transform Scotland, Rail Freight Group, Capi-tal Rail Action Group, the Friends of the Far North Line and the Scottish Association for Public Trans-port, with the aim of building support for action to improve rail journey times between all seven cities in the Scottish Cities Alliance: Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth and Stirling, resulting in a faster, safer, greener and more competitive mode of transport for everyone. The launch was so successful, in fact, that it was included in First Minister's Questions in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 6th March, although the question answered was not quite the one asked as you can read in Yestermonths in Parliament.

The campaign calls for a more enlightened vision for sustainable transport with, and between, the northern cities. It wants to see a similar level of commitment to rail as is currently being shown by the Scottish Government's two massive £3bn projects to dual the A9 from Perth to Inverness by 2025 and the A96 from Aberdeen to Inverness by 2030. An initial estimate suggests that it might be possible to both dual and electrify the Highland Main Line (HML) from Perth to Inverness for £1.1bn, far less than the £3bn which is going to be spent on the A9 road.

The five strands of the campaign are:

  1. Dual and electrify the HML from Perth to Inverness
  2. Rebuild the Inverness to Aberdeen (InvAb) line to 21st century standards
  3. Substantially reduce journey times from Inverness, Aberdeen and Dundee to the Central Belt by dualling and electrification
  4. Build and electrify a new direct rail link from Perth to Edinburgh via Kinross to cut 35 minutes off the journey time
  5. Create a new inter-city rail hub at Perth

At this stage, the proposals do not include building a new line from Inverkeithing to Halbeath as we have previously reported. That would bypass Dunfermline; Inter-City Express would serve it. Dualling the HML and much of InvAb will greatly increase the capacity of both lines for passenger and freight trains. Being able to run eight freight trains a day each way instead of the current two on the HML could take 300 more lorries off the A9 every day. More passengers going by train rather than by bus or car will ease congestion on roads and car parks in the cities. Both means of modal shift will make huge savings on road maintenance and on petrol and diesel consumption; this month's UN warnings on climate change would thereby be heeded. The Far North Line would benefit from more frequent connections, faster journey times with these connections and more freight capacity.

At the beginning of February, Stewart Nicol, Chief Executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, wrote in the Business Comment column of the Inverness Courier that his view is that the rail system should get its act together over improved journey times into Inverness from both the south and the east before the A9 and A96 upgrade works start causing disruption. Evidence that we have heard from elsewhere shows that, where parallel road and rail upgrades are carried out, if rail is finished first, there is modal shift, much of which stays on rail. However, if the road if completed first, or both finish together, that shift is much less, if there's any at all. Mr. Nicol also said that robust wireless internet on trains is essential. We would go further and say that this should also apply to mobile phone cover-age. Our observations are that coverage on trains tends to be better where railways parallel major roads but poor where they don't. Rather ironic given the legal restrictions on using these devices whilst driving motor vehicles. There are exceptions: the mobile phone signal at Forsinard is brilliant. Anything to do with mobile phone company executives holidaying in the Flow Country?