The Scottish Ministers' High Level Output Specification (HLOS) was published in February. The document is a legal requirement to inform the UK Office of Rail and Road (ORR) of "what the Scottish Ministers require the rail industry to achieve with regard to Scottish railway activities during the review period covering 1 April 2024 to 31 March 2029." i.e. Control Period 7 (CP7).
It is largely a set of instructions to Network Rail. This is not the place to look for details of specific projects in the 'pipeline' for 2024-29.
The following excerpts are of particular interest to railways in the North of Scotland. (Our emphasis added)
3.4 to establish and operate (with ScotRail Trains Ltd.) a joint Scotland-based timetabling team to deliver all activity on the Scottish network. The team should be operational by the start of CP7 and co-located, with one management structure responsible for the delivery of the timetable product, with a demonstrable understanding of Scotland's geography, economy and network operating characteristics;
3.14 ensure train connectivity, during unperturbed periods, between services and other modes, such as bus or tram. Such connectivity must result in timetables demonstrating good connections from one service to another with a focus on the needs of passengers.
3.15 Rail travel, especially on Scotland's increasingly electrified rail network, offers passengers and business a highly attractive mode of transport which is quick and efficient but also has low or net zero emissions. To retain those advantages over other modes (including the growing electric car market), the rail network must continue to modernise and in Scotland will be required to deliver competitive journey times.
3.16 On parts of the Scottish Network, speed limits reflect the historic capability of previous trains rather than the current capability of both trains and infrastructure. It is recognised that this provides opportunities to improve journey times without the need for further enhancement works. As a result, the Scottish Ministers require Network Rail to take full advantage of maintenance and renewal works and timetable development processes to enable ScotRail Trains Ltd. to achieve improved journey times. This should be based on a decrease in the average minutes per mile measured across all ScotRail services in the current timetable (at January 2023). Maintaining safety, Scottish Ministers expect that Network Rail will work with Scottish Rail Holdings and ScotRail Trains Ltd. on a plan to deliver this outcome, to be in place for the start of Control Period 7.
3.45 Electric passenger and freight trains offers zero emission transport which cost less to purchase and operate, are more reliable and faster and attract more passengers than existing diesel or alternative technology trains.
4.23 It is expected that during CP7 it will be necessary to introduce new fleets of electric and battery-electric trains to replace life-expired diesel trains and the older parts of the existing ScotRail electric fleet.
This HLOS contains the evidence that we are lucky to be part of Scotland's Railway. Roger Ford, of Modern Railways magazine writes: "When the Scottish Minister's High Level Output Specification (HLOS) for Control Period 7, which starts on 1 April 2024, was published, I wondered how it would compare with the pitiful England & Wales version. It turned out to be a breath of fresh air, showing that the Scottish Ministers, or rather their rail team in Transport Scotland, are informed customers for Network Rail.
"They have very clear views of what Network Rail is to deliver in CP7 - plus catching up what they failed to deliver in the current CP6. Behind the text is the firm stamp of command."