Frank Roach began his presentation by pointing out that HITRANS is one of seven Regional Transport Partnerships in Scotland. HITRANS has five staff, two based in Lairg and three at Dalcross. The HITRANS area encompasses Highland, Moray, Argyll and Bute, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles) and Orkney.
Looking at the policy context Frank pointed out that the National Transport Strategy developed by the Scottish Government and this targets modal switch. The climate change agenda means that the Scottish government is committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 by 80% (42% by 2030) and HITRANS is looking at ways of integrating this requirement into its policies. Transport Scotland carried out the Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR). Among the 29 interventions featured hourly Highland Main Line and Aberdeen-Inverness services.
The HITRANS Regional Transport Strategy identified a number of projects with the aim of bidding for funding. However, following a change of administration at Holyrood funding was handed over to the local councils instead. They have more freedom to decide their spending priorities.
The HITRANS area covers approximately half of the area of Scotland. HITRANS has sought to develop the rail network. For example, the Invernet was introduced covering the network of local rail services in the Inverness area and was locally funded initially, before the services were subsumed into the ScotRail franchise. The additional services utilised one additional train and 8 additional staff.
Growth figures are impressive, with traffic from Ardgay up by 192% in 4 years and traffic from Invergordon up by 74% in 2 years. The service is provided by refurbished class 158 units and as part of the upgrade, high quality seating has been installed, with more space between seats along with additional space for bicycles. The service is now used by more people than ever on a daily basis. Invernextra began in December 2008.Services were improved to provide four trains to Kyle and 4 to Wick daily all year round, giving better connectivity with Orkney.
Other rail developments included the re-timing of the first train from Kyle to depart at 0621 to enable the regional centre to be reached by 0900. A new Aviemore departure arrives in Inverness at 0843. There is also a late night FSO train and an Ardgay connection to London train. Dingwall now sees a 30 minute peak service. There are plans to reopen Conon Bridge station and it is expected that this will cost approximately £1 million. The project will provide a basic station with a platform capable of accommodating for a 4 car train. Conon Bridge is likely to be similar to Beauly in terms of passenger usage. Provision has been made in the current timetable for the additional stop.
The railway network north of Inverness now operates on a seven day basis and there has been an all year round service since 2001. HITRANS seeks better use of the rural railway and part of this is improving freight usage. HITRANS runs a freight forum and Frank outlined some of the freight developments over the last few years. There is now growth in the freight business, for example Tesco now has a train to Inverness operated by Stobart Rail and deliveries are then be made to stores in Inverness, Aviemore, Wick, Dingwall, Elgin, Thurso, Ullapool and Forres. It is planned that operation of this service will move to DB Schenker in the near future.
There are also timber schemes under consideration that could move significant amounts of timber by rail from the Rannoch and Flow Country areas. Moving timber by rail offers the option of reducing the number of truck movements with consequential environmental benefits. There are also proposals to use timber for power generation at Invergordon and a substantial part of the 300,000 tonnes per annum input could be moved by rail. At Corpach the old paper factory is being replaced by a timber processor which will be rail connected.
It is considered a that the A9 trunk road has too many HGV's on it as does the A95. Some 20 per cent of all vehicles on the A95 are heavy goods vehicles. The train operated by Tesco removes a number of lorries from the A9. Elgin also has a variety of traffic including potatoes, other products, and Ministry of Defence traffic. With more passenger services on the horizon, there is the need to utilise freight paths so that they can be retained for future traffic growth.
Looking at the Highland Main Line, Frank Roach pointed out that there are a number of developments under consideration including an hourly faster service in 2012. Three additional passing loops will help to deal with additional freight traffic. There are already improved passenger services between Perth and Edinburgh.
Additional rolling stock may be provided by 2012 and that this could be cascaded class 170 units. On the Inverness to Aberdeen line, planning permission has been obtained for Dalcross Station for a single line station with a passing loop, however with its inclusion in STPR it will be a two platform station with passing loop. In 2008 new services were introduced as part of Invernet II with trains terminating at Inverurie and a new 0710 Inverness departure arriving in Aberdeen at 0938. New Sunday services are under consideration.
On the west coast, Oban has the busiest tourist office in Scotland and the route to Oban is one of the few in Scotland where the difference between road and rail times is negligible. The West Highland Line rail line offers potential for development, for example in the heritage area and is perhaps most famous as the line used in the Harry Potter films. The steam hauled Jacobite is popular during the summer season.
There are other potential heritage developments elsewhere in the Highlands too, such as the Strathspey Railway and there is a proposal for an extension of this line to Grantown, costing in the region of £5 million. Current research projects include looking at the train running times on the West Highland Line. This line passes through challenging terrain and a study is underway to see if faster speeds into and out of loops are feasible. The current rolling stock will require to be replaced by 2020 to meet accessibility requirements.
Another study is underway to examine resignalling of the busy Inverness - Dingwall line with a colour light system as this would yield major benefits. Motorised switches and crossings would also offer benefits, but there are cost considerations to be looked at. There is also work being undertaken to look at the level crossings on the Wick - Inverness line and improvements here could see an increase in the line speeds. However, some crossings will be expensive to improve due to their location.
A study is due to start shortly looking at the freight capability of the Highland rail network and this will examine pathing, the loading gauge, weights, length of trains that can be operated and terminal facilities across the network. This will provide valuable information to the logistics industry.
There are also plans for additional passenger services between Inverness and Elgin under the Invernet II banner and this will relieve congestion on the A96 trunk road into Inverness. HITRANS is also assisting NESTRANS with the strategy for developing rail in the North east of Scotland.
Frank Roach answered a wide range of questions from the audience on many aspects of the rail network and plans for development, before being thanked by the Regional Chairman for his presentation and was presented with an engraved Scottish Region quaich as a memento of the evening.
The Scottish Region would like to express its thanks to Frank Roach for his presentation and assistance with this report and to Edinburgh City Council for hosting the event.
Further information on HITRANS can be found on their website at www.hitrans.org.uk
Report by John Fender.
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