Fantasy tram network for Inverness

Fantasy tram network for Inverness

One of my favourite follows on Twitter of late is that of CityMetric, the New Statesman magazine‘s cities website. It looks at what makes cities tick, not least in terms of transport infrastructure. A particularly fun feature of the site is its collection of fantasy metro networks, where readers submit ideas of what a tram or underground network would look like in various places – including areas far too small to credibly justify them. The series is a lovely mix of careful planning and over the top imagination.

As someone who has already commented on the topic of a tram network for my home city of Inverness a couple of times (see here and here), I felt I should expand on my plans and pitch an article for the series. And here it is.

Although that article gives a brief summary of the rationale behind the network, I’d like to share some fuller detail about it here, talking through my general approach as well my thinking behind each individual line.

What I’m about to write may be of little interest to anyone who doesn’t know the Inverness area well, and therefore you’re welcome to skip to the short version in the CityMetric piece.

As you can see from the image above, there are ten lines in what I am calling the “Iarann”. Those who speak the language will know that “iarann” is Gaelic for “iron”, as in “rathad iarann” (very roughly ra’ad ear-an) which means railway (literally “iron road”). I thought it would be nice to give the network a Gaelic name, and “iarann” is almost an acronym for “Inverness area rail network”.

The aim of the network is, primarily, to get cars off the road. Inverness is not a hugely congested city, though the city centre is certainly getting that way and there is definitely more to do to help the city be the green place it could easily be. So a guiding principle in my imaginings has been to look at the ways in which cars access the city centre and indeed how people can avoid it if they don’t need to be there – and the ways in which light rail might be a credible alternative to the car.

And as my article on CityMetric outlines, the lines are basically of two sorts – those that draw on the existing rail lines in and out of the city, plus new tram lines that serve thus-far ill-served parts of the city.

In this expanded explanation, I’ll look at each line in turn, starting with the new hub station for the network.

Falcon Square and the city centre stops

The hub of the network would be a station I’m going to call Falcon Square. This is a combination of both the existing Inverness railway station plus an adjacent tram interchange which would be based on the city’s Falcon Square. It’s important for the main train station and tram interchange to be right beside each other, and there are few options for the tram part. You could lose the bus station just to the west of the train station (hardly helpful for supporting public transport), or you could knock down the front of the station and lose both the main concourse and Station Square (again, not very practical).

The only remaining option was to have trams coming in along the existing rail lines, then peeling off to the left at or near platform 1 to go through the admittedly small gap past the Eastgate Centre and on to Falcon Square. It’s an underused and not especially beautiful location given its important position in the city, so we may as well make Falcon Square the main interchange for trams.

I could have called this new combined station “Inverness Central”, but I chose a name that had a bit more character about it. Perhaps it would still be simply “Inverness” for intercity rail network purposes.

Lines from Falcon Square need to get on to the river in order to fan out across the city, and again I see three options – the two I rejected are via Inglis Street and the High Street (killing off their pedestrian-only nature), or right down Academy Street and round past the old telephone exchange before doubling back south again (a long way to have to retrace your steps). Instead I propose going just a block along Academy Street, down Queensgate (handy for the city’s nightlife, not to mention the post office!) before turning left at the river on to Bank Street. From there, the new tram lines would split. But more about them later.

First, though: how do we get the most out of the existing train lines?

Firths line

The line marked in red is what I am calling the Firths line, following as it does the Beauly Firth, Inverness Firth and Moray Firth (plus, at Dingwall, it’s a stone’s throw from the Cromarty Firth). This is basically the train line from Dingwall through Inverness and on to Nairn, but as a continuous “crossrail” rather than separate services that terminate at Inverness.

There are obvious places where new stations can be added (or old ones reopened), such as Maryburgh or Conon Bridge, then past Beauly the stops at Kirkhill or Bunchrew could also double up as substantial park and rides. I’d reopen Clachnaharry to serve that corner of the city, then a station at South Kessock could pick up more traffic west of the city centre. That latter stop could easily be called Merkinch but it would be wise to avoid a clash with the existing Markinch railway station in Fife.

Heading east out of Inverness, I propose a stop somewhere along Millburn Road, perhaps next to the roundabout. This would allow changes between the lines running east and south out of Inverness, while also serving the Raigmore estate and eastern end of the Longman Industrial Estate. Next, the line would stop at Inverness airport before carrying on to Nairn.

You’ll see there’s a wee branch heading north off the Firths line after Millburn Road. This, I propose, is a big gain for minimal effort. The golf course at Castle Stuart – one of Scotland’s best, apparently – surely warrants a light rail stop, and from there you’re not far from the airport terminal.

Now the main train line to Nairn passes Inverness airport, of course, but that line – in the true tradition of Scotland’s railways and airports – is on the wrong side of the airport for the terminal. So in my map, either there’d be an underground link between the main line stop and this proposed branch line at or near the terminal, or else the main line would tunnel under the runway to the terminal to link up with this extra branch. That branch would then continue onwards to serve Ardersier and Fort George.

Cairngorm line

The line to Aviemore (which then carries on to Perth) is called, in my imagined network, the Cairngorm line. It ends up in the Cairngorms, though will hopefully be more successful and less controversial than the Cairngorm funicular…

It follows the route of the main train line to Perth, but with the addition of several stops. Some are new – Millburn Road is shared with the Firths line, and then there’s a stop called Beechwood which serves (and connects across the line) the campus and the retail park. The next four are all aimed at serving suburbs like Smithton, Culloden and Balloch to the east of Inverness which lie right on the line and yet, incredibly, aren’t served by it (I’ve avoided the name Balloch however due to a station of the same spelling near Glasgow). While all stops would be served by the tram, perhaps not all would need to be on the mainline train services.

This is a growing part of town, the university/college campus being a key part of the city’s economic growth, physical expansion and slow shift east in its centre of gravity. It is important that any tram network adequately serves this area – while being ready for the potential for more growth in the future.

Stations further south, however, are reopenings of old stations, serving small villages with large hinterlands (and, in the case of Tomatin, a major and growing tourist market) that could tempt folk from a wide area out of their cars).

You’ll note that the Cairngorm line would be a separate one from the Firths line, but there’s no reason why some trains from Dingwall couldn’t go through to Aviemore and beyond rather than to Nairn.

East Loop line

If you look at the layout of the lines to Nairn or Aviemore (either in their present state or my fantasy set up), you’ll maybe see another opportunity. And that is to create a loop on the Cairngorm line as it heads along the eastern suburbs and before it begins to swing south, and bring it round north to meet the Firths line.

For a relatively short investment of new line you get the gain of connecting those eastern suburban stops, including the campus at Beechwood, with the airport. It also allows access from the likes of Ardersier or Nairn to the campus without the need to go into Inverness. It further helps connect all those locations with the west and south of the city via the Circle line, but we’ll come to that soon.

I pondered a bit about the name of the East Loop (the University line was one possibility), but I figured that East Loop does what it says on the tin.

Black Isle line

One final line that has its roots in the existing train lines is what I propose calling (for obvious reasons) the Black Isle line. The towns along the south coast of the Black Isle are a major part of Inverness’s commuter region, as well as historic and characterful settlements in their own right. The A9 over the Kessock Bridge and into Inverness is a traffic bottleneck at rush hour, and the aim of this line is to kill off that congestion.

There used to be a line serving Inverness harbour, and it would be relatively minimal effort to reinstall a light rail line there, and if you’re doing that you may as well carry it on along the road round to the football stadium (and perhaps, in retrospect, a stop at the marina too).

From there, I propose looping round on to the Kessock Bridge and heading north. The tram would then follow the road to Munlochy junction and through the Black Isle towns to Cromarty. The stop at Bogallan, by the way, is a bit of a dead spot and also a misnomer, but it’s the best name I could think of from looking at the map, and could also be a park and ride for southbound car traffic into Inverness.

If you do all that, you may as well complete the triangle by linking Munlochy junction with the Tore roundabout, and from there hit the northern end of the Firths line. This gives the Black Isle line the advantage of connecting the peninsula’s towns not only to Inverness but to Dingwall too.

Glenurquhart line

Now, all these lines so far are broadly based on the existing railway lines, and tend to connect Inverness to places beyond the city. What’s equally important for the network, however, is for Inverness to connect up its own districts and suburbs. And this is where the second group of lines comes in.

If you look at Inverness on a map, you’ll see a relatively compact city centre but – comparatively speaking – vast surrounding areas of low-density suburbs. That presents both a need (to get folk using those arterial routes out of their cars) and an opportunity (because those spoke roads are generally wide and straight enough to cope with trams).

Taking the main spokes from west to east, the first one is the Glenurquhart line.

Like the others in this category of line, it heads out of Falcon Square and past Queensgate and Bank Street, and from there it turns right and across the river, following the A82 southwards along Glenurquhart Road (hence the name). I’m imagining a stop with the crossroads at Kenneth Street, then Ardross Street (handy for the council headquarters and northern end of Dalneigh), then another stop for Dalneigh.

A stop at Tomnahurich would be handy for Queen’s Park, the Aquadome and Bught Park. I almost called it Bught before deciding that Tomnahurich was a prettier name, and the hill and cemetery forms a major landmark in the city so probably deserves to name a stop.

Then Torvean (hello golf course and canal) would precede Kilvean, where there isn’t much to see at the moment, though it’s kind of handy for the crematorium and will no doubt be covered in houses in years to come. It also allows intersection with the Circle line (and yes, more on that later).

As the Glenurquhart line carries on along the A82 I propose a stop at Dochgarroch (where the canal towpath meets the open loch and where a handful of outlets and dwellings can be found), and then a terminus at Lochend. That’s a relatively substantial village in itself, but would also, by way of a park and ride, help to neutralise a lot of commuter traffic from further south. There’s nothing to stop later expansion to Drumadrochit, Urquhart Castle, Glenurquhart itself and elsewhere along Loch Ness.

Ness line

Next is perhaps the easiest line to give a name to, as it follows the Dores Road along the River Ness, past the Ness Islands and out to Loch Ness with a terminus at Dores. Like with the Glenurquhart line there’s no reason why it couldn’t stretch further along the south side of Loch Ness.

Stops in this line are probably self-explanatory to any local, though there’s no reason why there couldn’t be different or additional ones.

Culduthel line

Like the Ness line, the stops here are self-explanatory, as is the name. It will turn left on the riverside to go up Bridge Street and Castle Street (handy for shops, pubs and the castle) and then climb up on to Culduthel Road which it will follow all the way until the Southern Distributor. Perhaps it could also carry on into the further flung suburbs and settlements to the south.

Capital line

This line gets its name from Old Edinburgh Road, which it follows for most of its existence, as well as giving a nod to Inverness’s nickname of The Capital of the Highlands. I’ll be honest and confess it doesn’t serve parts of town I know well, so there’s potential for other or different stops on this one.

It does make sense, though, for it to carry on further south and bring civilisation to the likes of Milton of Leys.

Jacobite line

My original motivation for this line was to give Raigmore hospital a stop (which would also be handy for the north end of Drakies), and you may as well stop en route at places like Kingmills (handy for a hotel, two parks and a golf course). From there, I propose it crosses the Inshes roundabout (I think Inshes Junction is a marginally nicer name) and then the question occurs of why you don’t carry it on further east along Culloden Road and into the suburbs up the hill.

Once you’ve left the city you’re then not far from Culloden Battlefield, a major tourist destination and the inspiration for the line’s name (well, it was either that or the Hanover line).

This line suffers from a bit of mission creep, but it’s worth it in the end. Once you’ve hit Battlefield (I propose no “Culloden” in the name – we have more than enough stops with that in their name already) you then may as well carry on to intersect with the Cairngorm line at Culloden Moor, allowing folk travelling from south of Inverness to get to places like Raigmore Hospital by public transport without going into the city centre.

It’s then not far to villages like Croy and Cawdor (the latter an important tourist destination due to its famous castle), and if you carry the line on that far you’re pretty much at Nairn so may as well complete the journey.

This line is in a way one of my favourites as it is so diverse; both a suburban line as well as a link with outer villages and of course Nairn. It also gives inhabitants of the fastest town in Scotland a second public transport route into key parts of eastern Inverness that doesn’t mean going all the way into the centre first.

Circle line

Last but not least, one line to bring them all together and in the darkness bind them. The Circle is also one of my favourites as it draws everything into a coherent whole, tidies up a lot of loose ends, and serves a handful of unique stops that could make good use of a network like this.

Starting anti-clockwise from Falcon Square we cross the river then turn right onto Kenneth Street, stop on Telford Street (anyone need anything from Lidl?) then turn left on to King Brude Road and into Scorguie. You’d then turn right on to Leachkin Road to serve Kinmylies and Leachkin before stopping at what I am calling Craig Dunain. It’s really all about giving a stop to Great Glen House, home of the headquarters of Scottish Natural Heritage and a host of other organisations, but it and the following Westercraigs would also serve the rapidly expanding house building up there.

You’d then cross at Kilvean via bridge or tunnel (as opposed to the route of the West Link road) to ensure that the circle remains… well, a circle, and then hit the Southern Distributor. From there you’d intersect the other southbound lines with stops at pretty much every roundabout, and then have a unique stop at Drakies & Inshes (the “Drakies &” being an important geographical reflection as well as a tool for distinguishing from the other stops with Inshes in their name).

The line would then run over the Inshes roundabout, follow the Inshes bridge over the A9 and then (having run alongside the Jacobite line very briefly) turn left on to the campus, curving round to meet the Beechwood stop. Then it would (despite what the map suggests) follow the main train line into Inverness, from where the circle would continue.

This line is really the key to the whole network, as it emphasises the multifaceted nature of the city: it’s not all about the city centre and the outlying areas that need to connect to it. Often people need to get between two different places that aren’t the city centre – for instance if you commute from the east of the city to Great Glen House, or if you come from out of town to the campus or hospital. Indeed, the circle line does more than any other line to keep public transport users out of the city centre who really don’t need to be there.

Some weaknesses?

Of course my fantasy metro map for Inverness has its flaws, on both the design side and the network side.

For starters, I am no graphic designer and so the map I’ve produced (using Edraw) is not perfect. There are glitches, rough edges and parts where I would have liked to have done more to make it look a bit more professional.

But I haven’t. This is largely because I never intended to come up with something absolutely perfect (I have the wrong skill set for that), but simply something that illustrates what I am trying to do and which maybe gets people thinking and talking about how people get around the Inverness area. If there are improvements to the map that could be made, others might be better placed to do them and they are welcome to.

Secondly, I think there might be weaknesses in the actual network I’ve imagined. There are some areas of the city not brilliantly served. The Longman industrial estate and eastern suburbs like Culloden, for instance, are only served at the edges. Although I’ve imagined lines along most of the spoke roads running out of the city centre, there are none on the lines of Stratherrick or Harris roads. And I think it would be a real boost to Inverness’s picturesque riverside to have a line that serves its west bank with stops at the likes of the cathedral, Eden Court Theatre, Bught Park, Whin Park and the archive centre.

But none of these are far from existing stops or indeed the city centre, and we could end up putting a line in every single road if we’re not careful (hey, there’s an idea…).

My map doesn’t accommodate the emerging new town at Tornagrain or any other proposed future settlements, and I also say nothing about traffic within the main towns at the extremity of the network – Dingwall, Nairn and Aviemore. All three have their own traffic problems, and so perhaps deserve more than one stop each on the network. But this is an Inverness-orientated network, and perhaps those who know those towns better could create something that would serve those towns well.

So yes I could endlessly update and improve this network. But I’m not going to. Hopefully it prompts the imagination of other people, who maybe want to come up with their own ideas. And if it does genuinely get anyone thinking about how else we might get people out of their cars in Inverness, then all the better.

I’d love to read folks’ comments below.

9 thoughts on “Fantasy tram network for Inverness

  1. As someone who grew up in Balloch, or Culloden East – couldn’t the different Gaelic names be used to differentiate the two Ballochs? – I have to say I love this. Great fun! (It would be great to see better public transport in and around Inverness even if not exactly along these lines!)

  2. Thanks Anna! I avoided Balloch so as not to be confused with the Balloch train stop (of course different pronounciations due to the different origins), but there’s definitely a case for more Gaelic in the map – sadly I don’t speak it though.

  3. Awesome!

    Do you think tram-train technology like that being trialled in Sheffield might be a possibility for some of this?

    Alas, I fear that something needs to be done to reduce the cost of heavy and light-rail development before much progress can be made in with railway development in Inverness – or anywhere else. The costs of building new stations and new tramways is way too high at the moment IMHO and I can’t help but feel that new railway stations are really gold-plated in their spec. BR would have thrown together some cheapo wooden platforms just to get the stations open but today, it always seems to be multi-multi-million for even the simplest most basic station.

  4. Hi Alasdair. I am afraid I don’t know enough to answer either of those questions. Though to guess the first one, I suspect you’re alluding to stock that can go on both tram and regular rail. That would certainly be required in my proposal – stock on the Firths line would need to do both the Nairn branch (the regular rail line) and the Fort George branch (which I suppose would be light rail). Similarly with the Circle line that would join the main rail line between Beechwood and Falcon Square.

    As for your second point, again that’s beyond me but I’d always argue – and I think recent examples prove it – that reasonable investment in developments always pays off in terms of usage, economic gain and so on. Much as I think my model is over the top, I do nonetheless think it would have a positive impact.

  5. Thanks Simon, I agree with you here!

    In Sheffield they are trialling tram-trains and it’s hoped that they may then be tried in other cities – this has been suggested as an option for Glasgow airport as way of getting a cheaper rail link (Glasgow Central-Paisley on the mainline and a new tramway from Paisley to the airport, perhaps on existing streets). For info about the Rotherham trial, see:

    I totally agree with you that investment is worthwhile. I’d also like to see a change in the way that the media talk about railways as “subsidised” but roads as “invested in” and that the costs of every rail (re-) opening scheme becomes the crucial point for public and political discussion whereas for roads whether the road is needed or not is always the main point! (Even though new major roads cost way more!)

    Hopefully your idea will lead to some real discussion and thought.

  6. Happy New Year to you, Simon. That was an almighty set of crayons that you were given for Christmas!

    I don’t really know the Invernesian geography well enough to comment, although having had to make various trips to Raigmore over the last six months, I’m au fait with the nightmare that traffic can present around that area. I only really know the parts to the east of the city centre, and I’m not really qualified to comment on anywhere else, but I’d suggest the following:

    – I like your loop round Culloden. However, I’d run from Falcon Square or wherever in the city centre, along the Millburn corridor to Eastfield Way retail park, then split into 2: 1st part is a spur to the airport terminal, with an interchange at the proposed Dalcross heavy rail station; 2nd part is a loop from there around the Balloch/Culloden/Smithton area, ending up at Inshes (possible extensions around the housing estates – Milton of Leys?) then back into town
    – rebuild the station at the former Gollanfield Junction (close to Ardersier and not all that far from Croy) with shuttle buses/park and ride facilities for people from those places
    – Provide some kind of interchange station where the “Culloden Loop” would meet an improved Highland Main Line bringing people in from the south

    As I said, I’m only really familiar with a few bits of Inverness, and definitely not aware of the full picture. I quite enjoyed getting around Inverness on the bus with my dayrider ticket (zone 2 from Nairn is very good value), but it was during the summer, and only during the day, so I’ve no experience of what the evening services are like there.

    I know this is a fantasy network, and I don’t want to take the crayons away, but the fact is that we could do so much better with what we already have.

    I’m away to get mine out and see how Elgin would improve… All the best to you and your family 🙂

  7. Hi Gus, some good ideas in there, thanks for contributing. And you’re right to say that we could be doing so much better in Inverness. I did think about Millburn Road – it’s wide, straight etc – but figured that it basically duplicates the existing railway line just over the wall from it and running parallel, so I wanted to use that line as much as possible. There’s definite merit in your proposed circle through Culloden, Inshes etc, though with the luxury of no constraints I do think the lines I propose connect those places sufficiently well. If we were being realistic your loop might be a good compromise.

    I look forward to seeing your Elgin plans!

  8. My worry about your routes is the hills of Castle st and over Charleston. Together with crossing the canal. A line going out millburn to raigmore onwards to raigmore estate then across A9 to new prison site eastfield shopping splitting to a dalcross/ nairn and smithton/ culloden croy cawdor. There is still the bed of forres aviemore line (steam railway have their eye on it) can kessock bridge cope with losing lanes to tracks?
    Longman has no public transport so at least a loop from millburn to harbour.
    If you are going to lochend why not drum of fort Augustus? Dores also to FA. If there use the bed to span bridge, some walkers and cyclists might object, I think some of it is great glen way.
    I may be thinking of further out than your plan, but we can only fantasise!

  9. Hi Stuart, thanks for these great ideas. Some really good points in there.

    On Castle Street and Charleston west of Telford Street – I don’t know, maybe rocket launchers? Seriously though, I did think about that, especially Castle Street, but figured if San Fransisco’s steep hills can cope then I think those of Inverness can.

    Millburn Road eastwards – yes, see my previous comment, you’re not the first to suggest that, but I’m not sure what you propose does much different from existing plans. Raigmore Estate is not served, which you rightly address, but that area is handy for both my Millburn Road and Raigmore stops, so it’s not too neglected.

    Kessock Bridge – yeah you’d either have to lose or share lanes, but with the intended reduction in traffic maybe that’s ok. Or just tough on cars!

    And as for the Loch Ness extensions, yes, that’s no less doable than what’s in place, and a Loch Ness circular would be wonderful. I’ve kept my focus on the city, though, so if others with better local knowledge want to play around with ideas round Loch Ness and down the Great Glen, go for it!

    Where you’re spot on, though, is the Harbour to Millburn Road line through the Longman. The whole industrial estate is definitely a weak point, and all the stations around it don’t quite penetrate. What you propose could have a stop at the roundabout so nowhere on the Longman would be too far from a stop. I’d imagine this being a part of the Black Isle line for the purposes of the map. It’d also have the advantage of providing an extra through-line from Dingwall to Nairn that avoids Falcon Square. If I revise one day in the future, I’ll add this!

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