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9/8/2015 - Follow up seminar planned as North rail line problems continue

Board Members of HITRANS, the transport partnership for the Highlands and Islands, have expressed their concern at the continuing poor performance of rail services on the Far North Line between Inverness and Wick/Thurso - and will maintain pressure on Network Rail and ScotRail operators, Abellio to bring about early improvements which restore passenger confidence in the service.


HITRANS held a seminar called Points North in March of this year to highlight the problems on the route and identify ways of improving journey times and reliability.


A follow up seminar is planned for later in the year after senior representatives from Network Rail and Abellio travel to Wick and meet stakeholders.


Members of the HITRANS Board heard at a recent meeting in Inverness that problems continue to be experienced by travellers. HITRANS Partnership Manager Frank Roach reported a catalogue of incidents of poor performance, in many cases caused by driver shortage. Trains often did not stop at Conon Bridge and Beauly railway stations to enable trains to regain time.


He said that Network Rail had all disciplines working on ways to decrease journey times and improve performance. A list of 28 projects had been drawn up, with short, medium and longterm timescales.


To date only a speed increase at Nigg had been implemented, resulting in a 10 second saving in the northbound direction and 5 seconds in the southbound. Chapelton Level Crossing near Muir of Ord regrettably remained a critical Temporary Speed Restriction, despite the installation of new equipment. He said it was clear that patronage had fallen against a background of unprecedented Scottish rail passenger growth.


Mr Roach added: “We have taken this up to the highest level and have an agreement from key representatives of Network Rail and Abellio/ScotRail Alliance to travel with us to Wick in November to see the problems at first hand and to meet stakeholders affected. We will then run a repeat of the Points North seminar later this year to ensure wide dissemination of issues and progress.”


Landward Caithness Councillor and Depute Chair of The Highland Council’s Planning, Development and Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Matthew Reiss said: “Caithness people regularly express their disappointment and severe frustration at the problems caused by trains cancelled at very short notice. It is clear that if no replacement driver is available there are basic structural or contractual issues. In this the most northerly  part of the entire rail network it is essential to be able to have confidence in the service and I hope the November meeting leads to rapid concrete improvements being put in place.”

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