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3/13/2019 - HITRANS HIGHLIGHTS Spring 2019 Newsletter



Welcome to the first edition in 2019 of HITRANS HIGHLIGHTS, our newsletter which keeps you informed about the work of the regional transport partnership. This edition records the main outcomes of our Board meeting at Inverness on 8 February, 2019, when we welcomed new Partnership Board members Naomi Bremner and Robert Andrew to their first meetings and welcomed back David Gray for an extended period on the Board. The newsletter complements information available on our website Twitter @HITRANS_RTP


Aviation 2050 Consultation & Stakeholder Event  

Working with colleagues in Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), we have engaged Northpoint Aviation to assist with preparing a response to the Department of Transport’s (DfT) Green Paper, which outlines proposals for a new aviation strategy to 2050 and beyond. The deadline for responses is 11 April, 2019.   During the consultation period we have also invited senior officials from the DFT to a key stakeholder event at Eden Court, Inverness on Friday 15th March.  This event will provide an excellent opportunity to ensure that the importance of air services to the Highlands and Islands economy is understood and suitably reflected in the context of the strategy.

Among the key priorities which the consultation response will seek to support include:


·   Highlighting the Importance to the Highlands and Islands of securing guaranteed access to important   international hub airports, such as London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schipol.

·       Ensuring that regional air connectivity to the rest of the UK and Ireland is maintained and improved, and that the value these important links provide is better understood and quantified.

·      Ensuring that national aviation policy supports the safeguarding, and enables further development, of Highlands and Islands’ intra-regional routes and routes to other parts of Scotland.

·        Highlighting the need for appropriate formal indices of connectivity to be incorporated into Government policy in order that changes in the region’s connectivity can be tracked, protected and enhanced against measurable criteria;

·      Identifying opportunities where the Highlands and Islands are well placed to be at the forefront in developing and implementing future technologies that will help support the decarbonisation of aviation and improve efficiency with the sector.


Recognising the importance of HITRANS regional cohesion

The Partnership Board is pleased that the Scottish Government is willing and eager to consult over future transport policy and strategic transport interventions through the creation of Regional Transport Working Groups. However, it is recommending that the new Regional Working Groups are based on the existing geographical area served by HITRANS, rather than on emerging economic partnerships which would see the five constituent local councils serving on five separate working groups.


In a letter to Transport Scotland, HITRANS Director Ranald Robertson says that the HITRANS boundary affords the best geography to engage partners within its area on the review of the National Transport Strategy and the Strategic Transport Projects Review 2. He wrote: “This will ensure that shared transportation challenges have a united voice across our five partner councils. It will mean that due regard is taken of strategic routes in one partner council area that are of a lifeline nature for a neighbouring council. It will underline the strategic nature of investment in our regionally significant transport networks and services.”


He stressed the important role that HIE and the SCDI had to play in the regional groupings. 


Faster progress needed on A82 upgrade plans

HITRANS Chairman Councillor Allan Henderson is to write to Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, to highlight the need for progress on two important upgrades to the A82.   Councillor Henderson is anxious that the Scottish Government, through Transport Scotland, commits further funding to identify key areas for improving traffic management and transport infrastructure in Fort William.  In a first phase of investigations, AECOM, were appointed to carry out a study into improving transport connectivity at Fort William by identifying opportunities for strategic multi-modal transport improvements to support local and nationally significant economic developments within the area. The scope of the work included railway, marine and active travel infrastructure. Councillor Henderson wants the momentum continued with the next phase of investigation which will identify detailed proposals for priority projects.

Councillor Henderson, who is a member of the campaign group – the A82 Partnership - also highlighted the importance to the wider Highlands and Islands of the upgrade between Tarbet and Inverarnan, a 17km stretch of road which runs adjacent to the west bank of Loch Lomond.  The expectation was that the detailed design for this upgrade should have been completed and a commitment is now made to publish the Road orders and commence on the construction at the earliest opportunity.  


Orkney Inter-Island Transport Study

HITRANS is to hold discussions with Orkney Islands Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to find a solution to the funding of an Outline Business Case for new inter-island ferry services in Orkney.   The work programme for the OBC is set over 2018/19 and 2019/20.  Fees for the first year amount to £160,830 while the estimated budget required for the second year is £141,300.   An earlier Strategic Business Case was undertaken on the basis of a four-way split between Transport Scotland, HIE, HITRANS and Orkney Islands Council, who chair the Client Group. However, Transport Scotland has now indicated it will not be making any contribution to the OBC development in either financial year, and this leaves the shortfall to be found by the three remaining funders.


At the recent Partnership meeting, Board members expressed their disappointment at Transport Scotland’s decision not to maintain its support for the investigatory work and delegated Partnership Director Ranald Robertson to work with partners to identify a funding solution that will enable the essential OBC work to be completed. 


Consultants Peter Brett Associates have been appointed to undertake capital outline business cases in relation to inter-island transport to the Outer North Isles and Rousay/Egilsay/Wyre.  The scope of their work will include the undertaking of the OBC for the Orkney network as a whole.


Ferry Timetable Study

Partnership Board members have agreed to support a proposal for further study of ferry timetables and development of technology to ensure that passengers gain the maximum benefit from their experiences. Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate David Thomson has been studying published timetables to establish the maximum visit time made available by ferry and presented the results of his investigations to Partnership Board members at their recent meeting. Earliest arrival and latest departure times at the mainland and island port of every route were recorded and the maximum possible duration of a day trip was derived. for 45 islands or remote peninsulas.


A little under half of these routes offered a regular weekday service of length greater than 8 hours.  There were 16 routes over which no day return journey is possible on any day. There are 9 islands from where it is not possible to make a day return trip to the nearest key local centre on any day.


In the opposite direction, there are 7 islands that cannot be visited by ferry for a day trip of any duration. Further to this 41 routes offer a service that facilitates return journeys of some kind, but of duration less than the benchmark of 8 hours and/or not on a daily basis (weekends excepted).  These vary in extremity, from the example of the Western Isles, where it is not possible to undertake a day trip to the islands using any or the five routes which serve the islands, to the example of Shapinsay where the possible daily visit to Kirkwall is just short of 8 hours. The islands of Canna, Muck, Eigg, Colonsay, Coll, Tiree, North Ronaldsay and Papa Westray were highlighted as especially isolated, having no possibility of a day return trip in at least one season.


David has undertaken to provide an MS Excel tool which will allow the future updating and analysis of routes and the automated production of graphic representations, removing the need for time-consuming procedures to compare levels of service.  It is agreed that his initial findings can be expanded – by broadening the study to include frequency of transit offered, alternative modes of transport available, linkages to other modes of transport and, importantly, access to key services and facilities.


Branchliner - “Wood” you use rail?

HITRANS will be represented at a high level meeting in London on 25 March to discuss opportunities for transporting Scottish timber by rail.  All Managing Directors of freight operating companies are to be invited to the round table meeting, chaired by Scottish Government Minister, Fergus Ewing, MSP. The aim of the meeting is to highlight to the key decision makers in the UK’s main rail freight operating companies the important that the Scottish Government places on forestry and timber processing and the environmental benefits to be gained from modal shift from lorry to rail.


HITRANS’ role is to sell the business opportunity to the freight operating companies, focusing on Crianlarich, Rannoch, Altnabreac, Kinbrace, Georgemas and Keith.


Meanwhile, discussions continue on getting a flow to start this spring, with enthusiasm being shown by a number of processors.


Press ‘n’ Ride

Background:The Press ‘n’ Ride concept is one that has been promoted by HITRANS to improve performance and reliability of trains at “request-only” stops, such as on the Thurso/Wick/Kyle rail services. This would see the installation of an automated request system at each station whereby the driver would be aware of any waiting passenger/s in advance, via an alert to the conductor generated by the communications system.  If there was no requirement to stop, this would allow the driver to maintain line speed and help improve reliability in the first instance and eventually reduce journey times. The scheme has been adopted by Network Rail as part of the Far North Line Review Team work. Transport Scotland and Smart Cities funding has allowed £230,000 to be allocated to rail improvements in our area.


New Project:It is proposed to use the funds to pump-prime the creation of a new Token Exchanges Point on the Kyle line near Stromeferry.   This will increase the capacity of the line which is constrained by a 42-minute section between Strathcarron and Kyle, one of the longest single track sections in the UK. This will enable trains to leave Strathcarron while shunting is taking place at Kyle. It allows trains to follow each other into Kyle at 25-minute intervals rather than 42 minutes; provides greater access to the track for maintenance; and it allows for greater flexibility during periods of rockfall maintenance. The cost of this proposed work is not yet established but would involve a new Uninterruptible Power Supply; a radio mast and a Train Protection Warning System equipment on the ground; together with software changes within the signalling system.


Inverness City Centre regeneration project 

Funding is being sought for the second phase of the Accessing Inverness Project which aims to shape the future of Academy Street, Inverness, and complement a planned major upgrade of the railway station and revamp of the Victorian Market. 


Phase one ended on 1 February with the deadline of a period of consultation with the public regarding proposals to make it easier and safer for pedestrians and cyclists to access the Railway Station from Falcon Square, Academy Street and Inverness Bus Station at Farraline Park/Rose Street and to enhance the surrounding streetscape.   


HITRANS has been working with The Highland Council, Sustrans Scotland and a number of city centre stakeholders on the project following a successful application for funding to Sustrans Community Links Programme.  Consultants, Civic Engineers, have been managing the project.   


Options presented to the public included widening pavements, reducing traffic speeds and introducing streetscape features to enhance the look and feel of the city centre. 


Following review of the many comments made during the consultation process, including workshops in the Eastgate Centre and the Victorian Market, the aim is to apply for funding to progress a detailed design with the management of the project transferring from HITRANS to The Highland Council for the next stage to align with the wider Inverness City Active Travel Network project.


Active Travel Update

Following the secondment of HITRANS Active Travel Officer, Fiona McInally, to The Highland Council to manage their Community Links Plus/Inverness City Active Travel Network Project, HITRANS has appointed Vikki Trelfer to fill the roll of Active Travel Officer for two years.   Vikki, who has worked on a number of projects, including on the island of Rum, attended her first Partnership Board meeting on 8 February.  


Vikki will be managing two budgets. Transport Scotland has allocated £133,400 from the Regional Active Travel Fund to HITRANS to spend on active travel projects. This years award includes funding for projects such as Bikes on Buses, which will see HITRANS working with local bus operators to provide solutions that guarantee a cyclist carriage of his/her bike on a bus. There is also funding for cycle parking at transport exchanges and small improvements to cycle facilities in towns. 


Vikki will also be involved in delivering a number of projects as part of a partnership agreement with Sustrans. The budget for the Sustrans Community Links Partnership Funding is £100,000 in this financial year. Current projects include production of Active Travel maps for Fort William and a reprint for Inverness and liaising with local contacts to produce maps for Aviemore, Dingwall and Stornoway.  Other projects include ActiveEbikes and storage at Barra Airport, installation of bike and people counters in Inverness and the development of tender documents for the next stage of the Active Aviemore Project.


In Fort William, a consultant is being commissioned to develop detailed designs for improving the active travel network in the Black Parks area, which provides traffic-free links between the town and Inverlochy and Caol. The route has recently benefited from an upgrade to the Soldiers Bridge by Sustrans through funding for the National Cycle Network from Transport Scotland. The connecting section through Black Parks frequently floods after periods of high rainfall and has no lighting which means the route is often impassable in the winter.  The public will be asked to comment on the proposals.                                          


European Projects Update:


FASTER Project:  We have made a bid to be partners in an ERDF-funded project called FASTER, which aims to increase the number of publicly accessible charge points to encourage more Electric Vehicle drivers in the region.   Partners in the project come from Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and include Strathclyde University. HITRANS has a significant budget in the project, totalling 1,688,653 Euro, allowing installation of 24 rapid chargers in the HITRANS area. 


Stronger Combined ProjectThis EU project provides funding to support an emerging strategy to reorganise transport in order to tackle mobility and sustainability challenges by offering an alternative to private car ownership in sparsely populated areas. It may do so by, for instance, combining mobility and societal services as part of a single, seamless offering that is made available to users via app subscriptions. 


HITRANS is one of 20 partners in the project and its budget is set at 291,351 Euro. 50% of this funding has been secured through the North Sea Region ERDF and it is our intention to seek new funding at a local level as our match funding. The initial focus in our area will be within the Cairngorms National Park.  However with Scottish Government funds available through the MaaS Investment Fund it is hoped the Stronger Combined project can be used to draw down significant funds for a region wide approach. We will be also be responsible for UK-wide communication and dissemination through media channels and at events.


Mobility Opportunities Valuable to Everybody (MOVE):We are partners in this European-funded project aimed at improving connectivity and making rural areas more accessible through provision of low carbon transport and improving accessibility, availability and integration of travel. Our role is to lead one of the five pilot area projects and a close working relationship with NHS Highland is expected. Further updates on the progress of the plots will be provided in future newsletters.


SCDI Rural Commission

Partnership Board adviser, Fraser Grieve, gave Partnership Board members an update on the Rural Commission. The Commission has been established to look at the challenges and opportunities that exist outwith central urban Scotland and ensure the future economic potential of all of Scotland is harnessed. Further details can be found 


Board meeting dates in 2019:

The next Board meeting will be held on Friday 26 April in Moray; then 13 September in Orkney; and 15 November in Highland 

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