Double and Electrify
The Inverness to Perth ‘Highland Main Line’ railway has just celebrated its 150th anniversary –- and there is much that the Victorians would still recognise. Two-thirds of this key 118-mile route is just single track – limiting capacity, slowing journey times and undermining reliability – and the line is still not electrified. Rail journey times to Inverness are poor compared to road.
The current road investment plans would make the railway even more uncompetitive. The Government proposes to spend £3bn dualling the A9 between Inverness and Perth, substantially reducing journey times by road – and hence further weakening the position of the railway for both passengers and freight. Rail upgrades are budgeted to cost a maximum of £600m.
Given the ambition to dual the A9, for rail to compete on this corridor a ‘game changer’ is required. That means creating a fit-for-purpose electrified and double-tracked railway – transforming rail’s capacity and capability for passengers and freight. If dualling is good enough for road, it’s good enough for rail too. An initial cost estimate for the rail project is around £1bn – a fraction of planned road expenditure.
Top-class trains, and journey times of around 90 minutes from Inverness to Perth and 2½ hours from Inverness to Edinburgh and Glasgow, would dramatically change rail’s competitive position.
Getting freight off the A9 is another key objective. The Highland Main Line already handles significant freight flows, including the daily Tesco train. Given more investment in rail, hundreds more trucks could be taken off the A9 daily – reducing the toll of accidents and cutting the serious damage done to road surfaces by 44-tonners. HGVs over 7.5 tonnes are involved in 23% of all accidents on single carriageway sections of the A9, yet typically only make up 7% of the traffic.
But even doubling and electrification won’t create a level playing field for passenger traffic between Inverness and Edinburgh. The journey between Perth and Edinburgh will remain slow and tortuous without a significant intervention. To achieve this, we need to see reinstatement of the direct fast route from Perth to Edinburgh closed in 1970.