Cramped Inverness rail services connecting with Edinburgh, Glasgow, Elgin and Aberdeen are to increase in capacity by 45% this year – providing much-needed extra space for frustrated passengers.
Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (Hitrans) has hailed the decision by the ScotRail Alliance that the current three-car trains serving the north are being replaced by larger four and five-car trains in a major country-wide rolling stock programme.
ScotRail said it was also focusing on improving on-train catering and to increase reliability of ticket vending machines – two issues of particular interest to north passengers after complaints about trolley services on the Far North Line earlier this year and concerns about the ticket machines at Inverness station in the past.
The ScotRail Alliance, a formal agreement between Abellio ScotRail and Network Rail, has already announced it is increasing the number of scheduled services between Inverness with the Central Belt and Aberdeen.
This is on back of a £6million upgrade taking place at Inverness Station, while investment on the Far North Line has resulted in punctuality of services increasing to 85.7%, the highest for some time. As a result, ScotRail has benefited from a 7% increase in usage of the line.
A Hitrans spokesman said they were “delighted” with the investments after a recent meeting with Alex Hynes, managing director of ScotRail Alliance
The spokesman said: “Alex enthused us with his passion and ambition at the level of investment being made available for improvements on the rail network in Scotland and in particular to a significantly increased number of scheduled services between Inverness and Elgin and from Inverness to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
“The refurbished High Speed rolling stock – scheduled to be introduced in a rolling programme this year – would increase capacity by up to 45% with the current three car trains being replaced by larger four and five car trains.”
Moray Council’s SNP co-leader Graham Leadbetter, the group’s spokesman on economic development, said: “There is huge enthusiasm for these substantial improvements across the north, which will not only benefit the comfort of passengers but be major economic boost.
“Having a comfortable, reliable and efficient rail service is critical to the north of Scotland’s economy.
“The roll out of new stock on the lines, especially the Inverness-Aberdeen route will mark a huge change in capacity and comfort for passengers, and the significant rise is very welcome.”
He added: “We have long waited for an increase in direct services from Moray to the Central Belt, and with the other changes taking place it will make travelling quicker and more comfortable.”
A ScotRail Alliance spokesman said: “We are working day and night to build Scotland the best railway that it’s ever had – and the Highlands really are a key part of this.
“Once our programme of improvements is complete, customers across the north will benefit from major increase in seats and services to and from the central belt on board our iconic upgraded InterCity trains.”
In January, figures showed one fifth of trains to and from the Far North had no trolley service due to staffing issues. Just a few weeks later, ScotRail pledged the service would be fully manned.