The Anonymous Widower

Is This The Most Unusual Idea For A New Railway Service in The UK?

In Issue 864 of Rail Magazine there is an article about the Class 230 train demonstration in Scotland, that I wrote about in Battery Class 230 Train Demonstration At Bo’ness And Kinneil Railway.

This is a paragraph.

HITRANS Partnership Manager Frank Roach told RAIL that he was keen to interest Transport Scotland in using battery Class 230s to run shuttle services between Wick and Thurso.

I don’t live in the Far North of Scotland and I’ve never been further North on the mainland that Inverness, so I have no right to criticise the need for a new rail shuttle service between Thurso and Wick.

This Google Map shows the Far North of Scotland.


  1. Wick is in the South-East corner of the map.
  2. Thurso is in the North-West corner of the map.
  3. John O’Groats is in the North-East corner of the map.
  4. Georgemas Junction, which connects to the Far North Line to Inverness, is indicated by the red array.

This second Google Map shows Wick.


  1. The single-platform Wick station.
  2. Wick Airport, which used to have flights to Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

This third Google Map shows Thurso.


  1. The single-platform Thurso station.
  2. Scrabster with its harbour that has a ferry to the Orkneys.


  • Wick and Thurso are both towns with populations in the region of 7-8,000 people.
  • I suspect that if you live in Wick and want a new widget for your boiler, that it will be in Thurso. And of course, vice-versa!
  • Wick and Thurso get four trains per day to and from Inverness and the same number of trains each way between the two towns.
  • So it’s not very convenient if an elderly person, who can’t drive wants to go and visit their sibling or friend in the other town for the afternoon.

The two towns would appear to be twenty-nine minutes or twenty-one miles apart by rail.

The article also states that a battery-powered Class 230 train can run at up to sixty mph with acceleration similar to that of an EMU up to forty mph.

Each round trip would probably take an hour, so a single train could provide an hourly service.

I would think, that using the fast charging system described in Charging A Battery-Powered Class 230 Train at Thurso and Wick stations, that a single train could shuttle all day between the two stations with an intermediate stop at Georgemas Junction station.

I suspect the Inverness and the shuttle services could interface seamlessly in something like the following way.

  • The shuttle train would arrive in Wick and connect to the charging system.
  • The Class 158 train from Inverness would arrive behind the shuttle.
  • The Class 158 train would go to Thurso and back.
  • The Class 158 train would leave for Inverness.
  • The shuttle train would resume its shuttling between Wick and Thurso.

The Class 158 would have taken over one cycle of the shuttle.

The only works needed other than the installation of the charging system, could be to lengthen the platform to accommodate the two trains.

To try to predict the number of passengers that would use this shuttle will be very difficult.

  • The train would have a high novelty value for the locals.
  • The train could run seven days a week.
  • The train could become a quirky tourist attraction.
  • Train operators might like to see it for ideas for their problem lines.
  • It might encourage a whole number of new ideas.

If say it happened at times, that the train was full, then it could probably be lengthened to by adding a trailer car.

A big beneficiary could be Vivarail.

They would have a service that was providing an hourly shuttle in a remote area, which could show off the features and benefits of the train.

  • Remote servicing.
  • No diesel fuel required.
  • Hourly running
  • Fast charging.
  • Operation in cold and inclement weather.
  • An unusual demonstration location.

There’s even the local Wick Airport to bring in interested parties.

This idea reminds me of a story I heard many years ago. GEC were attempting to sell an Air Traffic Control Radar to a Middle Eastern country.

  • The most convenient installation of this radar in the UK was at Prestwick Airport, so the GEC salesman arranged for GEC’s corporate HS 125 business jet to take the prospective purchasers.
  • It turned out to be a glorious autumn day.
  • As the salesman returned with his guests to the plane, he was pulled aside by the pilot.
  • The pilot told him, that there was no greater sight in the world, than the Scottish Highlands on a day like this, so would he like the Arabs to be shown the views.
  • They then flew around the Highlands for thirty minutes or so before returning to London.

Was that the most unusual favour, that ever secured an order?



October 24, 2018 - Posted by | Business, Transport/Travel | , , , , , , ,


  1. this (or at any rate the diesel version) was mentioned in a rolling-stock review last year from the Friends of the Far North Line sections 28ff.

    A hydrogen version could shuttle back and forth all day on one tank.

    Comment by Peter Robins | October 25, 2018 | Reply

  2. Having read about their third-rail charging system in Rail Magazine, I feel that this is the best way to go for lines up to about forty miles.

    There’s just so little to go wrong, that can’t be fixed by someone in a service van.

    Comment by AnonW | October 25, 2018 | Reply

  3. the latest issue of Rail User Express says: “FoFNL has expressed its hope to Transport Scotland that a trial Thurso – Wick shuttle service could be set up using a Vivarail battery operated train, as demonstrated at Bo’ness last October. Minimal infrastructure would be required at one terminus to charge it between turns. The Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan, published in March 2018, announced a £60m Innovation Fund, part of which is to be directed at rail – an ideal source of funding to provide a battery-operated shuttle!”

    Comment by Peter Robins | May 24, 2019 | Reply

    • This summer I’m going to ride the Far North Line.

      Comment by AnonW | May 24, 2019 | Reply

  4. […] Is This The Most Unusual Idea For A New Railway Service in The UK?, I wrote about a proposal to introduce Class 230 trains between Wick and Thurso at the far north of […]

    Pingback by Speculation Increases Over Use Of HSTs « The Anonymous Widower | June 16, 2019 | Reply

  5. a further little snippet on this. reports that the FoFNL AGM featured a talk from Vivarail: “powering the train would be almost free, using stored power from the nearby Pentland Firth.”

    What’s not to like?

    Comment by Peter Robins | July 19, 2019 | Reply

  6. […] Vivarail are proposing to run battery-electric trains between Wick and Turso, as I wrote about in Is This The Most Unusual Idea For A New Railway Service in The UK? […]

    Pingback by Fuel Cell Train To Be Tested In The Netherlands « The Anonymous Widower | November 2, 2019 | Reply

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