The Anonymous Widower

Rail Sleeper Plan Between Caithness And Edinburgh

This is the headline on an article in the John O’Groats Journal.

So is this a good idea?

Some of the comments to the article are cynical it would work, but I feel that it could be a runner.

The Current Service

There are two train services from Edinburgh to Thurso during the day, both of which need a change at Inverness.

  1. The 08:32 from Edinburgh arrives in Thurso at 17:50.
  2. The 13:34 from Edinburgh arrives in Thurso at 22:20.

Both services could be summed up like this.

  • The total time of the journey approaches nine hours.
  • The train is something like a Class 158 diesel multiple unit.
  • Both legs are between three and four hours.
  • There is a long wait in Inverness.
  • The second service does the second leg mainly in the dark.
  • London to Thurso in a day is possible, but it would be dark and tiring.

Although there are quicker routes with more changes, I can think of better ways of spending a day, travelling North from Edinburgh to Thurso.

Coming back, there are three practical one-change services

  1. The 06:50 from Thurso arrives in Edinburgh at 14:22.
  2. The 08:34 from Thurso arrives in Edinburgh at 16:25
  3. The 13:01 from Thurso arrives in Edinburgh at 22:28.

These services can be summed up like this.

  • The first two services are faster than the nine hours going North.
  • On a good day the morning services must give good views.
  • You would certainly be able to do Thurso to London by train in a day.

Certainly, as a practical train service to attract visitors, the Edinburgh-Thurso service is not a service that says you must go, like say Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh, which I wrote about in Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh.

The Far North Line

The Far North Line connects Inverness with Thurso and Wick. This introduction from Wikipedia, is a good summary of the line.

The Far North Line is a rural railway line entirely within the Highland area of Scotland, extending from Inverness to Thurso and Wick. It is the northernmost railway in the United Kingdom. The line has many sections of single track, mostly north of Dingwall. In common with other railway lines in the Highlands and northern Lowlands, it is not electrified and all trains are diesel-powered.

The trains are typically Class 158 trains, which provide four trains per day all the way between Inverness and Thurso. Other services give a better service on the Southern part of the line including four trains per day to Kyle of Lochalsh.

Improving The Far North Line

Wikipedia has a section on Future Expansion of the line. This is said.

For many years there have been proposals to bypass the Lairg loop with a line across the Dornoch Firth, linking Tain (via Dornoch) more directly with Golspie. This would involve building a new bridge over the Firth, or making dual-purpose the bridge[5] which now carries just the A9. Discussions have been held concerning the shortening of the Far North Line involving a bridge over the Dornoch Firth and the possible use of the trackbed of the former light railway.[6] Nothing has yet come of these ideas.

But these are expensive developments and is the traffic available.

The John O’Groats Journal has this paragraph.

I have spoken to Caledonian Sleeper and want to investigate the business case for a sleeper combination with freight.

So could Internet and other parcels traffic be a nice little earner for the line.

But then a lot of tourists venturing along the line will be heavily loaded with bicycles and heavy luggage.

Incidentally, In the 1960s, I used to work with a John Baxendale, who used to go surfing off the North Coast of Scotland, as he said it was some of the best surfing in the world.

Do surfboards feature on trains to the North, as they do on trains to Cornwall?

Trains For The North

So perhaps, this line, the Kyle of Lochalsh Line and the Inverness to Aberdeen Line need a fleet of specially configured Highland trains.

  • Four carriages.
  • A good buffet/restaurant car serving proper Sottish food.
  • Lots of space for luggage.
  • Big windows.

Abellio ScotRail are planning to refurbish twenty-six Inter-City 125s for longer routes, which fit this specification, as the rear sections of the Class 43 locomotives can be used for freight and oversized luggage.

Will we be seeing these trains on the routes out of Inverness?

Imagine a tourist day out from Inverness, where the morning train to Thurso and the evening return to Inverness offered the best breakfast, dinner and hospitality that Scotland can provide.

You never say never where Terry Miller’s iconic trains are concerned.

If ever a train will still be in main line service, a hundred years after it was built, it will be these trains.

Given their unique status, if they worked the Far North Line, they might just attract enough passengers to make line improvements worthwhile.

Factors Affecting The Edinburgh-Thurso Sleeper

In the following sections, I’ll detail a few factors that will surely affect ridership of a sleeper train between Edinburgh and Thurso.

Sleeper Trains Are Having A Revival

A few years ago, it was predicted that sleeper trains would be consigned to history in a few years.

But in the UK, the Caledonian Sleeper and the Night Riviera, seem to have ignored this advice, with the Scottish service ordering new rolling stock.

Deutsche Bahn thought sleeper trains were the past and they probably were, given the customer-unfriendly way DB ran them. But Austrian Railways are taking over the sleeper services and investing in new rolling stock.

In Sweden, there’s even their own Far North sleeper train from Stockholm to the Arctic Circle. Check out this map on the Swedish Railways web site.

The Curiosity Factor

Done properly, an Edinburgh to Thurso Sleeper would surely attract those, of which I’m probably one, who like to travel to out of the way places as some form of box-ticking.

My Reason For Using Sleeper Trains

I am one of those lucky people, who can sleep anywhere.

So if I’m coming down from a trip to Scotland, I will often have a full day and then catch the sleeper back down to Euston. If I book at the right time, I often find that my First Class sleeper ticket, is less than staying in say a Premier Inn in Edinburgh or Glasgow and buying a train ticket for the morning. I also arrive in London at a time, that hasn’t wasted half the day.

If say, I had to go to an important event in Glasgow or Edinburgh, if possible, I would take the first train to the North in the morning and then come back on that day’s sleeper.

The Edinburgh To Thurso Day Trip

If you look at the times for a train service between Edinburgh and Thurso, it would not be possible to go up and back in a day and have time for a worthwhile meeting or party.

I once drove from Ipswich to Aberdeen and back in a day, but I was in a Lotus Elan doing speeds at up to a hundred on the way.

But you couldn’t do those sorts of speeds now!

On the other hand, if there was a sleeper service between Edinburgh and Thurso, you’d arrive fresh and ready for the day or you could sleep off the Highland hospitality on the way back. Or of course vice-versa!

Why Not A Glasgow To Thurso Sleeper?

Once all the electric trains are running across the Central Belt, Glasgow to Edinburgh could be 36 minutes, with a train every 15 minutes.

So only one route would be needed, as passengers from Glasgow could just take a train across.

But for operational reasons, the sleeper service might start from anywhere in the Central Belt, like the new Edinburgh Gateway station, which is close to Edinburgh Airport.

Thurso To Edinburgh Airport

An Edinburgh-Thurso service would certainly stop at Edinburgh Gateway station, to give easy access to the Airport.

Suppose you were going on holiday or for business reasons to Caithness or somewhere on the Far North Line.

You would catch a convenient flight into Edinburgh Airport and perhaps board the Sleeper st around nine in the evening for the North.

Coming back, you’d catch the Sleeper in Thurso and arrive at Edinburgh in time for a morning flight.

Caithness Tourism

Tourism to Caithness and the North Coast of Scotland could be a big driver of passengers to an Edinburgh to Thurso Sleeper Service.

This page on the Visit Scotland web site gives more details.

There’s even pictures of surfers.

Conclusion

I feel that not next year, but once Scotland’s rail system is fully developed, with the shortened Inter-City 125s serving the longer routes and electric trains all over the Central Belt, that a Sleeper Train between Edinburgh and Thurso will be viable.

 

March 21, 2017 - Posted by | Travel | , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s