I was appalled to read in the Inverness Courier that Inverness’s direct rail link to London might be under threat.
Currently, the “Highland Chieftain”, run by East Coast trains, has a seven or eight hour train service running in each direction from Inverness to London. I am often on the 0755 departing from Inverness, often to get to Edinburgh but sometimes further. It is the only direct connection to London by rail (apart from the sleeper), unless you want to change in Edinburgh or Glasgow.
According to the article, the Intercity Express Programme would see upgrades to the trains used on this line – all well and good if, as was originally planned they would be “bi-mode” trains that can go on both electric lines and non-electric lines: this is important, because the lines north of Edinburgh are not electric and there is little prospect of them becoming so in the near future. However, it is now looking like these “bi-mode” trains will be replaced with purely electric ones, meaning they will be unable to go as far as Inverness, necessitating a change of trains in Edinburgh. The report envisages, again according to the article:
“long-distance routes to Inverness being served by high-quality connecting trains rather than through services”.
…which, as is stated later on in the Courier article, is an utterly meaningless statement, because any change will see you having to lug bags, children or whatever over what is a very large railway station in Edinburgh. The beauty of the direct train is that you don’t have to change, you can “bed down” with whatever you have to make the journey comfortable, and don’t have to ensure that you get off at the right place to change for London: you can just keep going. It helps keep Inverness on the map business and tourism-wise, and means that we have direct access rather than having to be a subsidiary of the central belt.
Furthermore, the East Coast service beats ScotRail hands down because it has a decent catering service and – much more importantly – wireless and plugs, meaning that working on them is infinitely more practical even when only going as far south on it as Perth, Stirling or Edinburgh.
Another idea that springs to mind, furthermore, is that if you can force people to change in Edinburgh during the day, why not at night? Might the idea of a continuous sleeper train between London and Inverness not suddenly become even less palatable? Why not allow electric sleepers from London to Glagow or Edinburgh and then force people onto different trains to get further north? That would be a terrible prospect.
Of course, in an ideal world I shouldn’t have to point these things out, because the line should be electrified from Edinburgh to Inverness anyway (heck, it should be a part of the High-Speed plans too), there should be plugs and wireless as standard on all trains, and Inverness should have its Heathrow air link back meaning that the trains and planes can give each other competition. But the fact that these things are not the case is just testament to the dreadful investment in transport that successive governments have presided over and to the fact that the Highlands are often ignored by the powers that be (yes, even Nationalist governments in Edinburgh).
It seems that a decision is due to be taken by the UK Transport Secretary Philip Hammond next month. I intend to drop him an email, and if you care about the direct daily rail link then you may wish to do so too.
I’m fed up of our Third World public transport at top-grade prices. That things are only inching forward in terms of standards and technology is inexcusable as it is, but to go backwards, as with the scrapping of the Chieftain, would be beyond the pale.