HSTs must spearhead further Highland Line improvements
Rail passengers in the north of Scotland are looking forward to inter-city journeys by intercity HSTs between Aberdeen and Inverness with Dundee, Perth and the Central Belt cities in Scotland.
The 2+9 formation East Coast HSTs sometimes have adhesion problems climbing out of Inverness on damp or frosty mornings. It will be interesting to see what the shorter formation 2+4 and 2+5 sets, with their much higher power-to-weight ratio, can achieve.
As Philip Haigh says ( RAIL 836), wires between Edinburgh and Glasgow do nothing for Aberdeen and Inverness.
With the Scottish Government having expressed an aspiration to electrify all the routes between Scotland’s seven cities by 2030, it was hoped that the HSTs would fill the gap between now and then. Serious slippage to the EdinburghGlasgow Improvement Programme is making this aspiration more challenging.
Bi-modes have become flavour of the year for the UK Government, but their presently underpowered diesels do not suit the long gradients of the Highland Main Line.
Electrification between Perth and Inverness would provide the most startling journey time gains for both passenger and freight trains anywhere on the network. In contrast, the East Coast Azuma bi-mode is calculated to be some ten minutes slower between Perth and Inverness than the existing Virgin Trains East Coast Highland
Chieftain 2+9 HST sets. Hopefully, a set will be tested on the line in the next few months to see exactly what it can do.
With the Scottish Government currently spending £3 billion on dualling the A9 trunk road between Perth and Inverness by 2025, there is a serious danger of modal shift of passengers and goods away from rail and on to road. This would run contrary to Government policies and targets on climate change, emissions, congestion, safety and sustainability.
Indeed, a report to Transport Scotland just released under the Freedom of Information Act suggests there could well be modal shift of freight away from the Highland Main Line to the A9.
Ministers have said that railways must at least compete with roads, so some urgent forward thinking is needed to determine the future enhancements of the Highland Main Line in the light of this road competition and the realistic remaining lifespan of the HSTs.
Philip Haigh looks forward to seeing the HSTs “refurbished and modernised [to] be good for many more years”. The question to be answered is: how many more years?
Virgin Trains East Coast 43308 crosses Culloden Viaduct on February 5 with the early morning Inverness-London Kings Cross Virgin Trains East Coast service. It is hoped that HSTs will fill the gap before the route to the Highland city is electrified.