This article in Rail |Engineer is entitled ScotRail’s ‘new’ HSTs, gives full details of the modifications ScotRail wukk make to their HSTs, before they enter service in Summer 2018. This is said.
The iconic HST is now over forty years old. It ensured the success of British Rail’s inter-city service and is still the world’s fastest diesel train, although the ScotRail HSTs will have a maximum speed of 100 mph. With around ten million miles on the clock these trains are approaching retirement for long-distance services as they are about to be replaced by IEPs. However, as ScotRail is about to demonstrate with its reincarnation of these trains, there is still much life left in them.
I wrote Edinburgh to Inverness in the Cab of an HST, after a trip to Inverness and it was the trip of a lifetime.
On the trip, you realise that Scotland has a big problem and an asset with railways and it’s called mountains. So a train is needed with bags of grunt and big windows.
An HST has both, coupled with an iconic style, unmatched since the days of steam.
Scotrail’s plan to run the trains between the seven Scottish cities would appear to be a good one.
I wonder, if we’ll ever see the trains going to Kyle of Lochalsh, Thurso and Tweedbank.
The article is worth reading, as it details everything that will be done to create a train worthy of the iconic routes.
If I’m still of this life next Summer, I shall be in Scotland.
I’ve never spent a night in Aberdeen, Dundee or Perth for a start!
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.
- The 08:32 from Edinburgh arrives in Thurso at 17:50.
- 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
- The 06:50 from Thurso arrives in Edinburgh at 14:22.
- The 08:34 from Thurso arrives in Edinburgh at 16:25
- 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 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. 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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In my list of possible stations from my friend Nick, there is the innocent station called Ness.
This could be any one of the following.
As the others, are probably not destinations that would generate a lot of traffic to pay for the station, I suspect that Ness refers to Loch Ness.
There used to be a Fort Augustus Pier station, at the Southern end of Loch Ness. I assume from the giveaway word in the station name, that this was the transit point for Victorian hunters going to shoot Nessy
This Google Map shows the area.
Loch Ness intrudes from the North and Spean Bridge station is close to Ben Nevis at the bottom.
This diagram shows the various stations on the Invergarry and Fort Augustus Railway.
Surprisingly, the railway has not been completely dismantled and Wikipedia says this.
Some of the line today has been built over by roads and holiday parks, although it mostly survives in a reasonably good, if overgrown, condition. The many bridges and single tunnel are in particularly good condition. Some of the line along Loch Oich has been incorporated into the Great Glen Way, and a further section is proposed to become part of National Cycle Route 78.
A restoration project is (2016) under way at Invergarry Station, the last remaining station that is largely intact. The Invergarry Station Preservation Society plan to create a static museum, with a short length of track and several freight wagons.
It would be an interesting way to get to Inverness, if you could get a boat from Fort Augustus.
The title of this post is the same as this article on the BBC web site.
This is said.
New data has shown a “significant improvement” in tourism levels after the opening of the Borders Railway.
The Scottish Tourism Economic Assessment Monitor (STEAM) statistics compared the first half of 2016 to the same period the year before.
It is the first time in 10 years that every category saw improvement.
The company which produces STEAM data said the most likely source for the rise in tourism activity in the Borders and Midlothian was the railway.
Perhaps now the Department of Transport and the Treasury will believe that funding well-designed schemes is very much worthwhile.
Scotrail have ordered a fleet of Class 385 trains, which will be built by Hitachi at Newton Aycliffe in the North-East of England.
If you look at Scotrail’s network, there are a lot of lines, where new trains will be needed in the next decade.
Most of these lines are not electrified, so will the Class 385 train, be available in a version say, that would handle lines like the Borders Railway?
Electrifying all lines will be costly and the Heritage Taliban, may object to overhead gantries marching all over Scotland.
Class 800 And Class 801 Trains
Like the Class 385 trains, they are members of Hitachi’s A-Train family, so I suspect that if asked to supply a bi-mode Class 385 train, that Hitachi know the route to create such a train.
Trains With Batteries
I have written two posts about the Japanese using batteries in electric trains.
- Japanese Trains With Batteries describes how some Tokyo Metro trains have batteries to get them to the next station, in an emergency situation.
- Battery Trains In Japan describes how battery trains are to be used on the OGA Line.
The Japanese technology, doesn’t seem as comprehensive as that I wrote about in Bombardier’s Plug-and-Play Train, but I’m sure that Hitachi must be thinking about trains with batteries,
I am inevitably drawn to the conclusion, that Hitachi will come up with a train, that can run say between Edinburgh and Aberdeen, substantially under its own power, aided by overhead electrification where it exists.
This article on Rail News is entitled Major improvement plan for struggling ScotRail. This is the first paragraph.
The ScotRail Alliance has unveiled a plan to improve performance, after managing director Phil Verster had described the task of upgrading the network while running trains day-to-day as like ‘performing open heart surgery while doing a marathon’.
After my troubles at the weekend on n Northern Rail with overcrowded trains around Blackburn, I wonder if a pattern is emerging.
There is a lot of work going on in Scotland to electrify Glasgow to Edinburgh under the EGIP scheme.
There are delays to the electrification.
ScotRail will soon be receiving a a new fleet of Hitachi Class 385 trains.
There has been a union dispute.
Similar patterns are seen across the network, including in the following places.
- Manchester Area
- Northern England
- Southwards from London
- Thames Valley
- Valley Lines In Wales
I do wonder if the announcement of jam, milk and honey in a few years, prompts people to anticipate the new services and the passenger numbers grow, prior to the new services.
All this probably says, is that we should have a long term plan for the railways, which doesn’t get cut back, the next time government has a budget crisis.
There is an article in Rail Magazine entitled New Destinations For Scottish Sleeper Trains?.
Oban and the Far North of Scotland are mentioned, as new destinations for the Caledonian Sleeper.
One of the attractions of Oban for the operator, is that it is a port.
- Four ferries go to the offshore islands.
- It would be so convenient to get off the Sleeper and then get on a ferry to your ultimate destination.
- The Scottish diaspora would love it.
I suspect that Serco’s Marketing Department have the link to the ferries in mind.
Currently, Euston to Fort William takes twelve hours and forty minutes, with the train dividing into three portions at Edinburgh Waverley station.
To serve Oban, it would probably need the train to spin off an extra section which went to Oban.
At present it would appear, that you would get off the Caledonian Sleeper at Crianlarich at 0745, and wait until 1015 to catch the train to Oban.
If that is actually what happens, it’s not very passenger-friendly.
You can also get to Oban at the same time, by taking the sleeper to Glasgow and changing trains there.
As I suspect that the train operator; Serco are serious about getting more passengers to the Caledonian Sleeper, there would seem to be some ways to get passengers to Oban earlier in the morning, perhaps by timetabling an earlier train to Oban that meets the two sleeper trains better.
Once they knew that sufficient passengers were travelling between London and Oban, Serco could start to think about running a direct service.
But would it be a further split of the Highland service at Edinburgh or a split of the Lowland service at Glasgow?
The current frmation of the Highland Sleeper, is given in this section inWikipedia.
This is said in Wikipedia about the splitting off the train in Edinburgh.
The front two sleeping carriages are for Fort William, being combined at Edinburgh with a further two sitting carriages to make a four-vehicle formation. The middle portion of either six carriages is for Aberdeen, and the rear portion of eight carriages is for Inverness. Both the Aberdeen and Inverness portions usually convey one sitting and one lounge carriage each, with the rest being sleeping cars, all working through to/from London.
It might just be too complicated, to split the train for Oban at Edinburgh
The Far North
The sleeper takes eleven and a half hours to Inverness and the current local train takes four and a half hours between Inverness and Wick, which makes sixteen hours for the journey. That is just too long, when you can fly it in four hours.
The New Rolling Stock
The new rolling stock from CAF must be the key to improving the service for both the operator and passengers.
- The current sleeper trains are not the fastest and are generally limited to 40 mph in the Highlands.
- But even on the West Coast Main Line, the trains don’t go very quick, taking seven and a half hours for the journey, as opposed to four and a half for the fastest Virgins.
- I would suspect that the new coaches will probably go faster and still give a good night’s sleep. Not that I have any complaints about the current sleepers.
- Modern technology would probably improve the time to couple and uncouple the various sections of the trains.
- The mix of carriages will give the operator more flexibility, with respect to the formation of trains.
- Wikipedia has section on the new Mark 5 Coaches, which says there are 75 coaches of four types, arranged into four sixteen coach trains, with eleven spares.
- As new trains and coaches attract interest in a train service, I would not be surprised to see the new coaches attracting more passengers to the Caledonian Sleeper.
Four trains is an interesting figure, as at present they only use two; one to the Lowland and one to the Highlands.
But for the first time in the thirty years since the original Mark 3 coaches were built, if the Caledonian Sleeper needs to increase their number of coaches, there will be a manufacturer, who will probably be happy to oblige.
Ladbrokes wouldn’t give me odds on CAF building new coarches for the Night Riviera.
The first two Eurostars to Paris leave at 0540 and 0701 and the first to Brussels at 0650. At present the sleeper from Glasgow gets in at 0707, but surely better timings between the two services would attract more passengers, who wanted to have a good night’s sleep and be in Paris or Brussels early.
I doubt there is any great demand for a direct sleeper service between Scotland and Paris or Brussels and the cost of the trains would be prohibitive.
But by interfacing the two services properly, there could be a market to be developed.
The new rolling stock with there more generous performance might mean that this is a lot easier.
This article in Rail Magazine is entitled Sleeper MD Considers King’s Cross Potential.
Apparently, passenger feedback from when King’s Cross is used is very positive because of the station’s better connectivity.
I have this feeling that if they moved the Caledonian Sleeper to King’s Cross. during the rebuilding of Euston, that it would never go back.
Onward From The Sleeper Destinations
If you are coming south and arrive in London around seven in the morning, you have lots of modern, comfortable trains to go onward to your ultimate destination.
When I looked at Oban, it struck me that the connections to the sleeper, weren’t as good as say those in London to Bath, Bournemouth, Cardiff or Paris.
So perhaps one of the things that would help the current service is good onward connections in comfortable trains. Abellio Scotrail are committed to improving train services in Scotland, so they may be doing this.
There is no doubt that the current Caledonian Sleeper is a valuable and much-loved service. The fact that Serco are buying new carriages from CAF, is not an act of charity and must be because the company believes that they can improve the profitability of the service.
I believe that although eventually, there may be services to other destinations in Scotland, that in the meantime better onward connections may be a more cost-effective solution.
It also has to be said, if improved services work to Scotland, then they’d surely work between London and Cornwall.
This article in the Southern Reporter is entitled New Hope For Railway Extension.
It describes how politicians are getting together to extend the Borders Railway to Hawick. This was said.
In a speech in Edinburgh on Monday, Scottish Secretary David Mundell pledged to work with the Scottish Government on connecting the Borders with the national rail network to the south, saying it was a “realistic prospect”.
He said: “Scotland needs good transport links to thrive.”
It is my view, that the railway was not fully thought out in the first place.
The big thing that was missed was the Overground effect!
This was demonstrated so well here in London, when the transforming of the North and East London Lines from a set of travelling scrapyard-ready urinals into a modern railway, brought so many new passengers out of the woodwork, that trains soon became overcrowded and more and longer trains had to be ordered. Last week, it was announced that there will be more late trains, which I wrote about in The London Overground Grows Without Fuss.
The Overground just keeps on growing, so why won’t the Borders Railway?
My friends in the Borders tell me the trains don’t have enough capacity and there is not enough parking at Tweedbank. Anybody working on or living by the London Overground could have told the good people of the Borders this would happen.
The solution is probably to extend to a Galashiels-style transport interchange at Hawick, stop at Melrose and the Borders Hospital and procure some new four-car trains to work the line.
I also believe strongly, that Bombardier and Network Rail by the use of some intelligent design could enable the line to be served by Aventra IPEMUs, that would avoid the need to have electrification gantries marching all over the hills.
The Scottish Borders would appear to be suffering from that new benign disease;London Overground syndrome!
This disease, which is probably a modern version of the Victorian railway mania, was first identified in East London in 2011, when it was found that the newly-refurbished East London Line and North London Line were inadequate due to high passenger satisfaction and much increased usage. It has now spread across other parts of the capital, despite various eradication programs.
- Lengthening the trains from three to five cars.
- Adding step-free access or rebuilding stations like Brondesbury, Hackney Central, Hackney Wick, Hampstead Heath, Kensal Rise, West Hampstead and Whitechapel.
- Extending the system with a new branch to Clapham Junction station.
- Taking over the Lea Valley Lines to Cheshunt, Chingford and Enfield Town.
- Modernising and electrifying the Gospel Oak to Barking Line.
- Extending the Gospel Oak to Barking Line to Barking Riverside.
- Taking over the unwanted Romford to Upminster Line.
The latest pressure would seem to be to take over more of London’s suburban routes.
Londoners can’t seem to get enough of the life-improving orange.
Rail Plans For The Scottish Borders
This article on the BBC is entitled Borders Railway: Future Goals For New Routes Drawn Up.
Reading the article, it would appear that the following are proposed or are possibilities for the Borders Railway to mitigate the effect of London Overground syndrome.
- Building on the current success.
- Extending the railway to Hawick.
- Add some dynamic passing loops to increase service resilience.
- Add some more parking.
- Improve the wi-fi.
- More capacity and especially for tourism-related reasons.
- More steam trains.
- A possible branch to Peebles.
It would appear to be all well-thought out ideas, some of which will happen.
- More car parking at Tweedbank and Stow
- Longer trains with space for bicycles.
- Perhaps a longer passing loop. to enable increased and faster services.
- A turnback facility at Tweedbank to aid the running of stem trains.
- Better wi-fi.
But most of these projects are easily costed and the benefits can be calculated. So they are ones that accountants like and can fund or turn down.
Onward To Hawick
The Campaign for Borders Rail has called for the continuation of the line to Melrose and Hawick, and eventually to Carlisle. According to the group, Hawick suffered more than any other town in the Borders from the closure of the Waverley Route, and only the return of the railway could halt the area’s economic decline. At the time of the closure of the Waverley Route, Hawick was a 70-minute journey from Edinburgh. At Melrose, the southbound station platform and building exist alongside the Melrose Bypass. Network Rail has confirmed that there is nothing to prevent the extension of the line beyond Tweedbank, although commentators have remarked that the Bypass could pose problems. A major realignment of the road would be required, as well as the reinstatement of embankments and bridges.
Note that there appear to be a succession of viaducts to the South of Hawick, so perhaps Hawick would be a town to take a breather. I’ve also traced this section on Google Maps and if it was ever rebuilt, it would certainly be some railway.
I think that they could spend a lot of money going all the way to Carlisle, but an affordable extension to Hawick via the Borders Hospital and Melrose might be so successful as to get the politicians to allow the engineers to go all the way to Carlisle station, which as I reported in If Manchester Victoria and Birmingham New Street Were The First Two Courses, Is Carlisle The Third?, is being rebuilt to give all friendly visitors a warm welcome.
Power To The Peebles?
I’ve borrowed the corny sub-heading from a section in the BBC report, that prompted me to write this post.
The report says this.
It also recognises the success of the Borders Railway as encouraging hopes of reopening other lines.
It said some might not be suitable for redevelopment but cited the former route between Edinburgh and Peebles as one worth considering.
I think the route to Peebles is the Peebles Railway, which leaves the Borders Railway, just South of Eskbank station, goes South Westerly to Peebles and then Easterly to rejoin the Border Railway North of Galashiels station.
This sudden appearance of a plan for a Peebles Branch of the Border Railway has got my suspicions that a group of engineers have resorted to the methods of Brunel and Stephenson to solve the problem of increasing the double track on the Borders Railway.
I suspect the engineering fag packets and used envelops were produced together with a bottle of Scotland’s finest malt whisky and everybody went to the garden of a suitable hostelry, that overlooked the line and got thinking.
They looked at some of the single track sections like Newbattle Viaduct and thought that rebuilding railways in Syria might be easier.
Then they looked at the route of the Peebles Railway and felt if it was rebuilt, it would kill three birds with one stone.
- Peebles and a few other places would be connected to the rail network.
- The Borders Railway would get a much needed passing loop.
- Various tunnels and viaducts on the Borders Railway would not need to be double-tracked.
The Peebles Branch could be single or double-tracked according to the terrain and the costs.
A Second Borders Railway
It would also appear that because of the success of the Borders Railway, that there are suggestions to add new stations on the East Coast Main Line at Reston and East Linton. This is said under Future in the Wikipedia entry for East Linton station.
Proposals to reopen the station, along with the former station at Reston, have received the backing of John Lamont MSP, who has taken the case to the Scottish Parliament. A study published in 2013 proposed that East Linton and Reston stations be reopened. Since Abellio ScotRail took over the franchise in April 2015, they have now committed to reopening East Linton and Reston Stations as part of the local Berwick service by December 2016 but due to the shortage of rolling stock this will now commence in December 2018.
So it would appear there is a high chance it will happen.
This Google Map shows the location of East Linton between Dunbar and Edinburgh.
East Linton is indicated by the red arrow and Dunbar is on the coast to the East.
Dunbar station is on the East Coast Main Line, with services to Edinburgh and Berwick-on-Tweed.
This Google Map shows the proposed location of Reston station, which is between Dunbar and Berwick-on-Tweed.
Reston is indicated by the red arrow. The river at the bottom is the Tweed, with Berwick on the coast and the border.
This scheme looks to be a very sensible use of an existing main line. It also follows a pattern of adding Parkway stations to main lines and the recent opening of the new Cranbrook station on the West of England Main Line.
There would appear to be a few other closed stations on the line.
As they are not mentioned with respect to East Linton and Reston stations, I would assume that there is not a great deal of pressure for reopening.
If we look at the possible opening of services to East Linton and Reston stations in 2018, when Abellio Scotrail have trains available, this will only be a year before First TransPennine extend their Newcastle services to Edinburgh.
So could this hourly service stop at other places between Newcastle and Edinburgh, other than the proposed Morpeth?
The Berwickshire Railway
When I was looking at the Wikipedia entry for Reston station, I noticed that the Berwickshire Railway linked the station to St. Boswell’s station on the Waverley Route, which could be part of the extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick.
I suspect someone has looked at this line to create a route to Galashiels from the South East via Reston, St. Boswell’s, Melrose and Tweedbank.
But this report of the Storm of 1948 probably told them to forget the idea.