HSTs must spear­head fur­ther High­land Line im­prove­ments

Rail (UK) - - Open Access - R J Ardern, In­ver­ness

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.

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