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Highland rail campaigners raise concerns during 'constructive' meeting with transport minister


By Philip Murray

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A ScotRail InterCity 125. The trains are among those that run on the Highland Mainline and Inverness-Aberdeen route. Picture: David Porter.
A ScotRail InterCity 125. The trains are among those that run on the Highland Mainline and Inverness-Aberdeen route. Picture: David Porter.

Rail campaigners are hopeful that key improvements to the Highland network may come to pass after a "constructive" meeting with the transport minister.

Friends of the Far North Line committee members met Scottish Government minister Fiona Hyslop this week to raise concerns over the failure to deliver on much needed improvements to the region's network.

They highlighted the ongoing lack of a passing loop on the Far North Line west of Inverness – something it is believed would dramatically improve service reliability by minimising knock-on delays for other services when a train runs late.

They also flagged up the slow speed of trains on the Highland Mainline, arguing that its average speed of 50mph means trains take almost as long to get from Inverness to Edinburgh than they do from Edinburgh to London.

A spokesperson for the Friends said: "The purpose of the meeting was to make sure that the minister is fully aware of how far behind the infrastructure of these lines is when compared with the Central Belt and how essential fast, regular and reliable trains are for the economic wellbeing of the region and for the promotion of tourism.

"We also wanted to make clear the role railways will play in successful modal shift as part of the move towards Net Zero, which will only happen if there is sufficient capacity and reliability to attract freight and passengers to use them.

"Given that one freight train can replace 76 HGVs, we applauded the government’s year-on-year freight targets and hoped that work to provide the necessary capacity will begin soon. Currently all three railways are severely restricted, being mostly single track with a few passing places."

Moving on to the need for an additional Far North Line passing loop, they added: "We discussed the planned passing loop near Inverness on the Far North Line (the Delmore Loop) and pointed out what a great benefit this comparitively small and inexpensive project would have for the reliability and capacity of the line.

"We expressed our hope that it will be built during 2024 as design and preparation are nearly complete.

"It was a very friendly and constructive meeting and we were pleased to find that the minister shared our concerns about many of the current deficiencies, and is as enthusiastic as we are to improve the situation.

"Ms Hyslop told us that, contrary to our impression, the Scottish Government and MSPs in general, are very keen for rail provision to be improved, and rail is high on their transport agenda."


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