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2/29/2016 - HITRANS Highlights - February Newsletter

Welcome to the first edition in 2016 of HITRANS HIGHLIGHTS, our newsletter which keeps you informed about the work of the regional transport partnership and records the main outcomes of our Board meeting held in Inverness on Friday 5 February.  The newsletter complements information available on our web site:


Regional Transport Strategy Refresh
HITRANS has begun to update its Regional Transport Strategy and have appointed consultants Elyand Skyn to assist with its development. The RTS update will take 6 months and will follow the recent refresh of the Scottish Government’s National Transport Strategy.

The new HITRANS RTS will develop a clear rationale for the investment in transport infrastructure and services in rural and peripheral areas. It will also develop a strategy for reducing the need to travel both within and beyond the HITRANS area; improving the integration of existing transport provision and reducing the cost of providing these services Key elements of the new strategy will include Active Travel and Low Carbon Action Plans.

Consultants Elyand Skyn have been appointed to assist with the Strategy refresh and a workshop was held with Members at the recent Partnership meeting. All key stakeholders will also be consulted over the next few weeks with a Main Issues Report being developed by the end of February.

Rail stakeholder conference attracts top speakers
HITRANS held a conference at Inverness on Friday 11 December to update stakeholders on rail progress across the Highlands. Keynote speakers included Phil Verster, the Managing Director of ScotRail Alliance, which combines ScotRail Abellio and Network Rail, and Peter Strachan, Managing Director of Serco Caledonian Sleeper, which has its new base in Station Square, Inverness.

Mr Verster said his aim was to bring the Highlands and Islands closer to the central belt, putting customers first. By 2019, it was planned to reduce travel times through investment in modern rolling stock, including high speed trains. An hourly service to Perth would be extended to Edinburgh and Glasgow. An upgrade of Inverness rail station was included in spending plans.

Mr Strachan said Serco would be introducing 75 new sleeper coaches by April 2018. He unveiled images of the compartments which he said would provide “a high quality customer experience”. Serco were pleased to have chosen Inverness as the headquarters of its sleeper operation and sourced much of its catering products from the Highlands.

Delegates were also brought up to speed with progress being made by Network Rail to improve journey times on the rail network in Scotland and upgrade rolling stock and rail stations, including Forres and Elgin.
Meantime, HITRANS is preparing its response to Network Rail’s Scotland Route Study, which sets out rail industry investment choices between 2019 and 2029. The deadline for responses is 10 March.


Passenger study will help shape future redevelopment of Inverness rail station

The results of a survey of passengers using Inverness rail station was unveiled at the rail conference. Carried out for HITRANS by Transport Focus in association with market research company, Populus, the survey attracted 755 responses (a 28% return). 71% of those who responded were using the service for leisure purposes. 17% were commuters and 11% business people.
Attentive staff were commended by rail users, 75% of whom were satisfied with their experience of using the station. Only 6% were dissatisfied.
The survey highlighted the need for the station to be given an enhanced look and feel; feature more retail outlets; increased and improved seating and enhanced signage.
Rail operators, Abellio, have said they intend to spend £2.5 million on upgrading the station. At the same time, HITRANS is speaking with all the key stakeholders to ensure that the improvements complement the wider regeneration plans for the city centre.


Partnership Board members have been updated on ambitious plans to create a new rail timber terminal at Kinbrace in remote North Sutherland to transport timber from the Flow Country to Inverness, taking the heavy loads off hard-pressed local roads and on to rail. HITRANS is co-ordinating investigations into the feasibility of the proposal, called Branchliner, which would see a major new facility created at Kinbrace to freight the timber to southern markets via an expanded siding at Inverness railway station.

It is deemed to be a pioneering project that could be mirrored in other rural communities in the United Kingdom.

An estimated windblow of 230,000 tonnes of timber needs to be harvested in the Flow Country. Kinbrace is situated in the heart of the target area - between Helmsdale and Melvich. The value of the wood at the mill gate is estimated at between £8 - £10 million.

Preliminary studies have been carried out; key stakeholders have been briefed and presentation is being made to the Scottish Timber Transport conference on 10 March.

Next steps include the creation of an alliance or joint venture of forestry interests to take the project forward; enter into formal negotiations with rail hauliers; and seek clarification with Network Rail on terminal options at Kinbrace and Inverness.

The potential benefits of the Branchliner Project are highlighted in our response to the Scottish Government’s consultation – “Delivering the Goods- Consultation towards Scotland’s Rail Freight Strategy”

Response available here.

Research/Strategy Development Programme for 2015/16

A budgetary allocation of £1,195,000 has been agreed by the Board to allow officers to deliver the provisional project programme for Research, Development and Delivery in 2016/17.

In light of changing factors, the Board has agreed nominal changes, a summary of which is:-

• Reduce from £10,000 to £5,000 the budget for Air Discount Scheme research into
the introduction of a legally compliant scheme that is available for business use.
• Increase the budget for RTS refresh from £20,000 to £25,000 to allow an increased focus on Low Carbon Fuel Strategy that can be used to support that ERDF funding stream.
• Reduce the budget for External / EU Projects from £30,000 to £10,000 following rejection of initial applications for COMBI and PaTRA projects. Both to be resubmitted with some associated costs.
• Following discussion at the November Partnership meeting, a budget of £10,000 has been added to investigate a number of constraints / barriers to the tourism industry. These include constraints on Cruise Liner traffic growth and the impact on ferry infrastructure should there be a proven trend towards tri axle coaches.
• Increase the budget for rail project development from £40,000 to £60,000 to reflect
increased expenditure on key projects including Oban Hub, Inverness Airport Railway Station and Inverness Rail Station redevelopment.

Intern Andrew joins the HITRANS team
Our congratulations go to Our Active Travel Officer, Fiona McInally, on the arrival of her daughter, Eilidh, on Saturday 23 January. Both are well.
Fiona’s temporary replacement is Graduate Business Support Officer (Walking and Cycling), Andrew Mackay, who was appointed following interview via the Scottish Government’s Adopt an Intern Programme. Andrew has a wealth of experience, most recently from Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop in Inverness. He has been working there on the “Build a Bike (Bike Workshop)” project teaching bicycle mechanic skills to secondary school pupils, which is funded by Smarter Choices, Smarter Places. Andrew will work part time, usually Monday to Wednesday and he will continue at Velocity on Thursday and Friday. His contract is initially for 6 months.. 

Active Travel Strategy Update

Transport consultants, AECOM, are currently in the process of helping to prepare a draft version of the strategy having held a workshop with a wide range of stakeholders in Inverness in December 2016 and undertaken further consultations in January. Michael Nimmo who is leading the work on behalf of AECOM, brought members up to date with his research at our partnership meeting.

The research aims to identify where investment to address the actions within the 17 Masterplans should be prioritised and also set out those parts of the strategic network where walking and cycling facilities need improvement, aligning this with the aspiration for developing a National Cycling and Walking Network in National Planning Framework 3.

It will also identify an investment plan for improving opportunities for multimodal
travel within the area and make recommendations as to which behaviour change
interventions will have the most significant impact within the different urban and rural
contexts of the HITRANS region.

A small element of the annual £100,000 Active Travel budget is still to be assigned and
Officers have been in dialogue with Partnership Advisors and local authority colleagues with
responsibility for Active Travel to identify suitable projects for funding. Projects already being progressed include cycle counters in Moray and Argyll and Bute, Bike repair stations and a feasibility for a Cycle Hub in Moray.

Air Services Scoping Paper

We are taking a lead in developing an Air Services Scoping Paper to establish evidence and data around a number of the key issues which have been identified including the affordability and reliability of the services from island communities around the Highlands to the Scottish mainland. ZetTrans is also contributing towards the costs.

The scoping paper will: -

• Consider all air services between Islands and the Scottish mainland.
• Current and potential aircraft deployed on island to mainland routes
• Evidence on the reliability of the different air services
• Affordability for passengers
• Affordability for Scottish Government / Local Authorities
• Roles and responsibilities

To complement this work, an online survey, conducted by the SCDI, has attracted an amazing 1,400 responses and the results are currently being reviewed. The intention is to complete the draft scoping paper at the earliest opportunity with a view to then engaging with Transport Scotland on the issues and opportunities it identifies. A copy of the final Air Services Scoping Paper will be presented to our next meeting in April 2016 with the item then being discussed at the next Islands Transport Forum.

Online Ferry Availability Report - April – October 2016

Board members have agreed to help fund further studies with the aim of making it easier for the travelling public to book spaces on CalMac services online, especially during the summer period. Between 2013 and 2015 research was financially supported by HITRANS and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Argyll & Bute Council. Each year the work has been extended to include additional routes with the 2015 work including the services between Oban and Craignure and the Sounds of Harris and Barra for the first time. In total, the 2015 study gathered data on 10 routes and 20 separate services.

It has been agreed that HITRANS and our partner local authorities enter into dialogue with
Outer Hebrides Tourism to agree the period of the 2016 study and the routes to be covered. It is proposed that the Armadale to Mallaig route be added given recent concerns from the local community over available capacity following the introduction of RET and changes to vessel deployment on the route this summer.

HITRANS officers will also engage with Transport Scotland, CMAL and operator of the
Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services contract to undertake a more comprehensive review of Road Equivalent Tariff on different islands infrastructure and services.


Reactivating the Oban Hub

Work is continuing to identify opportunities to upgrade the visitor experience in Oban, around the hub of the pier, railway station and bus stance area. We have commissioned Robert Gordon University to undertake a Scanning and Engagement study of this interchange.

A meeting was held in Oban on 14 January with attendees from CMAL, ScotRail Alliance,
Calmac, IDP Architects, Bid4Oban, Transport Scotland, Argyll and Bute Council, Serco
Caledonian Sleepers, RGU and HITRANS. Following a walk around the railway pier, Prof Richard Laing of Robert Gordon University explained his 3D scanning exercise while Argyll and Bute Council representatives outlined their £2m Public Realm works that began that week. It was apparent that the current arrangements on the pier are unsatisfactory, and will be under further pressure with the introduction of Road Equivalent Tariff and additional ferry services.

Professor Laing will be reporting back his recommendations for future action over the next couple of months.

Programme of meetings

The programme of meetings for 2016 will see the Board meet in the Western Isles (Friday April 15); Argyll and Bute (Friday 16 September) and Inverness (Friday 25 November).

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