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10/21/2016 - HITRANS HIGHLIGHTS - Autumn 2016 Newsletter


Welcome to the Autumn 2016 edition of HITRANS HIGHLIGHTS, our newsletter which keeps you informed about the work of the regional transport partnership and records the main outcomes of our recent Board meeting held at Craignure, Mull.  The newsletter complements information available on our website: and Twitter @HITRANS_RTP


Review of Island Air Services 

Partnership Board members support the call for a full review of island air services and will work closely with the Islands Transport Forum in pressing the case to Transport Scotland and Scottish Ministers. Members believe that evidence from a Scoping Paper they jointly commissioned has confirmed the need to consider wide ranging issues affecting services from Orkney, Shetland, Argyll and the Western Isles to the Scottish mainland with an online survey, which was promoted by SCDI on behalf of the partners, attracting over 1400 responses.

Board members are acutely aware of widespread and growing concerns within the island communities relating to high and increasing air fares (despite the availability of the Air Discount Scheme), the lack of meaningful competition on these routes resulting in their monopolisation by a single operator, and the continuing reliance of that operator on a very small range of ageing and outdated aircraft.


Reinstatement of business travel in Air Discount Scheme

The Partnership Board is also to work closely with the Islands Transport Forum to urge Scottish Ministers to reinstate all business travel within the Scottish Government’s Air Discount Scheme. The Scheme was introduced in May 2006 with the aim of making air services affordable for remote communities in the Highlands and Islands and facilitating accessibility and social inclusion by providing a discount, now 50%, on the core air fare on certain eligible routes. However, eligibility for people making private or public sector business trips, where business related travel is considered any journey where there is a business component, regardless of whether there is also a leisure-related component, was discontinued from April 2011.

Having devised a costed, legally compliant business case, HITRANS is calling for eligibility for the discount to cover private sector travel, business travel by the public sector and business travel by NHS staff.  The cost of the reinstatement of the discount is estimated at £1,659,000 per year. HITRANS argue that monies saved by the public sector on vital travel costs could be rechanneled into providing direct services.


Business case for reintroducing Skye Air Services

HITRANS has been at the centre of detailed investigations which have concluded that there is a sound business case for reintroducing air services between Skye and the central belt of Scotland. A development strategy considers that a 24 month programme would be the shortest timescale needed to achieve the necessary licences and approvals, construct any new facilities, set up an aerodrome operating team, sign agreements with airline operators and commence scheduled services.  

HITRANS officers in partnership with HIE and The Highland Council are to enter into a dialogue with representatives of Transport Scotland to establish how the development strategy may be progressed. Any further HITRANS contribution towards the development of the project will be dependent on establishing a commitment towards the capital and operational expenditure required to deliver the scheme at either a local, regional or national level.


Inverness Rail Station Redevelopment / Platform4Change


Partnership Board members have been updated on plans to redevelop Inverness railway station as part of a wider city centre regeneration programme called Platform4Change.  Options include improvements to all three entrances and Station Square as well as a refurbished concourse, expanded commercial and retail opportunities, and an upgraded walking route between the station, bus station and Rose Street car park. Abellio ScotRail, who are committing £2 million to the upgrade, have submitted a bid for support funding from the Scottish Stations Fund (SSF) 2016, which is a £31 million grant pot administered by Network Rail on behalf of the Scottish Government. A decision from Scottish Ministers on the Inverness Rail Station bid is expected shortly.

 The Highland Council and HITRANS continue to scope options to secure funding for improvements that are outwith the Abellio project. Already £320,000 of Inverness Townscape Heritage Project funding has been earmarked for improving the public realm of Station Square. Further contributions towards Customer Information Screens with travel information for bus and rail services have also been secured through Scotrail’s Transport Integration Fund. Similar displays with real-time information are planned in Oban and Elgin.


Inverness Airport (Dalcross) Railway Station Update


Plans to establish a new railway stop on the Inverness – Aberdeen route near Inverness Airport, Dalcross are well advanced and Partnership Board members have been advised:

1. Submission of a planning application is imminent.

2. Construction cost estimates have been produced.

3. The Scottish Station Fund application process has begun.

The Project Design Unit at The Highland Council will shortly produce in the full suite of documents required for the planning application. Landowner notices have been issued. Consultants, AECOM, have now completed the Transport Assessment to support the planning process. This includes the letter from Network Rail explaining that they would not support the new station without the closure of Dalcross (Petty) level crossing.

The estimated cost for the single platform station construction (including car park and access) is £5,475,000.

The detailed planning application for the first phase of the railway station was lodged by HITRANS on Thursday 6th October.


Branchliner project


Partnership Manager Frank Roach updated Members on progress being made on the Branchliner Project, which aims to establish a rail facility at Kinbrace, North-West Sutherland to transport timber from the Flow Country to southern markets, via Inverness.


  •     The owners have agreed to work together to find a practical solution to use of the public roads and       to agree to market timber collectively if rail is found to be viable.


  •       Forestry Commission Scotland has contacted the key mills with a view to establishing their interest        in being directly involved.  Meetings are being arranged in the next few weeks with those                        operators who have come forward.


  •     All five major Freight Operating Companies have indicated a continued interest in the project and a         willingness to engage in railside loading trials.


  •   HITRANS is drawing up a train specification for rail haulage based on both lineside and fixed siding,     to Inverness and further south. Prices are expected from all five Freight Operating Companies. This       will enable a cost-model to be drawn up comparing road and rail.


  •   Network Rail is working with HITRANS to develop a Customer Requirement Document which will then    contractualise the request for a quote for the design of the permanent siding solution. The connection    is now thought to be less demanding in terms of signalling infrastructure than previously thought. It is    envisaged that Network Rail will finish their design by March 2017 enabling siding construction to be      costed and completed by summer 2018. This pre-supposes that the economic case stacks up and        emphasises the desirability of carrying out trials well in advance of substantial capital expenditure          being incurred.


Midnight Train to Georgemas


Partnership Members were presented with a discussion paper on the feasibility of providing a sleeper railway service from Caithness (for Orkney) to Central Scotland, greatly improving connectivity for some of the remoter parts of the country. They agreed to continue the discussion when a business case is made for the service.

The suggestion by Partnership Manager Frank Roach centred around what a Caithness sleeper service would look like. An overnight service of perhaps 2 sleeping cars, 2 seated vehicles plus lounge car could leave 7.30 pm from Thurso and call at Inverness at 11.30pm, Aberdeen  at 2.30 am, arriving Edinburgh at 5.30 am. In the return direction it could leave Edinburgh at 11.50 pm, calling at Aberdeen at 3 am, Inverness at 6 am and Thurso at 10.30 am (removing the need for the 7.02 am Inverness-Wick ScotRail service. Traffic would be not just be Orkney and Caithness visitors and residents, but also Easter Ross/Inner Moray Firth and Aberdeen and district. 


Follow-up Points North rail seminar planned


Performance on rail services to the north and west of Inverness (Thurso/Wick and Kyle) remains poor, with staff shortages compounding unit failures and late running.  ScotRail Alliance Managing Director Phil Verster accompanied HITRANS to Wick and Kyle to see the poor reliability issues at first hand.

The next generation RETB enhancement is ongoing, with testing for completion later this year. HITRANS intends to run a second conference - Points North 2 - over the winter to review services between Inverness and Thurso/Wick and Inverness - Kyle.


Smart Mobility Project in Inverness


The Partnership Board has agreed to adjust the timeframe of its funding of £250,000 towards the Smart Mobility Project in Inverness from five to three years. It is matching the contribution that The Highland Council has made in order to draw down £500,000 of ERDF funding towards delivering a project which includes a number of innovative travel information, bus priority and traffic management projects building on the recent progress achieved with the East Inverness Bus Investment Fund Project. The Smart Mobility Project is part of the bigger Scotland-wide initiative to create “Scotland’s 8th City – the Smart City’ and will be implemented between 2016 and 2018.


Making Oban Interchange


At Oban, IDP/Binns are working on a suite of layouts for the railway terminal which include a new longer platform with direct access to the CalMac ferry terminal. This platform will be long enough for sleeper operations and trackwork alterations will facilitate loco release, running around and stabling.

A meeting was recently held with Serco Caledonian Sleepers who expressed continued interest in serving Oban on a regular basis.

Discussions were recently held with Abellio ScotRail about accessing their Transport Integration Fund for improved signage and information on rail, bus and ferry services. The plan is for a new screen in the Ferry Terminal providing Rail (and bus) information and CIS / signage at the end of Platform 3 to help guide rail-ferry passengers to the ferry terminal and ideally information on ferry times. Abellio have committed to providing wayfinding signage.

A meeting has been held with CMAL in Port Glasgow to understand current and future ferry operational needs.


Active Travel / Sustrans Partnership Update


As part of HITRANS partnership agreement with Sustrans Scotland, HITRANS drew down £118,000 in 2015/16 (to June 2016) to help develop and enhance active travel projects within the area including new cycle parking at public buildings across the Highlands and Islands.

 Detailed proposals for the 2016 / 2017 budget will be brought to the next Partnership meeting. The intention is to prioritise funding towards those projects and initiatives which best address the priorities and measures identified in the final HITRANS Active Travel Strategy.

 HITRANS has also been successful in securing £20,000 from Transport Scotland’s Pre-Application Support Fund (PASF) to develop projects for submitting to the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Low Carbon Travel and Transport (LCTT) Challenge Fund. The two successful applications are for an Active Argyll project based around the five main towns in Argyll and Bute and also a Lochaber Active Travel Hub based around Fort William.


Active Travel Maps

The Active Travel map for Inverness was produced in spring 2016 and the initial 5,000 allocation has already been distributed. A revised version will soon be going to print. Other active travel maps are currently being developed for Nairn, Fort William, Dingwall, Stornoway, Forres and Aviemore.


Public Transport Information Officer


The Partnership Board has agreed to make permanent the fixed-term position of Public Transport Officer held by Julie Cromarty. The shared services approach has resulted in a number of successful outcomes and by making Julie’s position permanent a number of further initiatives will be delivered. Talks will continue with The Highland Council to establish their level of involvement.

Staff news:

We said farewell recently to our Lairg Office Manager Christine Kendall, who is retiring after 15 years of excellent service with firstly the Highland Rail Partnership and then HITRANS. Tribute was paid to her at a farewell function at Tain. 

We welcomed back in August our Active Travel Officer, Fiona McInally, following her maternity leave and the arrival of her daughter, Eilidh and bid farewell to Andrew Mckay, our Adopt an Intern, who had helped provide excellent support in Fiona’s absence. 

 Programme of meetingsOur final meeting of 2016 will be held in Ullapool on Friday 25 November. Our meetings next year will be held on 3 February at Inverness; 12 April in Inverness; 22/23 June in Moray; 14/15 September in Orkney and 24 November in Inverness.


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