Tuesday 14th February 2023
Back in December I reported on four bus and train developments in and around Inverness: the introduction of Request To Stop facilities at Scotscalder on the Far North Line; new electric buses in Inverness; the about to open Inverness Airport railway station; and an autonomous bus trial between the University and nearby Retail Park.
And here we are again with updates on these four initiatives.
1. Request to Stop
Following the trial of the Request To Stop button at Scotscalder station the system was extended to the seven other request stations on the Far North Line in December. I enjoyed another trip on this wonderful line last Thursday with ace YouTube Creator Geoff Marshall who is making a video about this development for release shortly.
We got the first train of the day at 07:00 from Inverness to Invershin for the 98 minute journey and on arriving found two fine looking peacocks enjoying a rest in the small cabin style waiting shelter …
… but rather than boarding the train they flew off …
…. leaving us to take a look at the new installation.
The next southbound train isn’t scheduled to stop at Invershin so we had plenty of time to take a walk across the Kyle of Sutherland ….
… on a footbridge at a lower level to the railway bridge to the next request station south called Culrain.
We had over an hour to wait before the next train was due and found pressing the Request to Stop button too far in advance of the train appearing doesn’t work – you have to wait until 20 minutes before the train is due and then it works a treat, as we found out.
It all seems to be working well and is an excellent initiative from ScotRail which will help speed up trains on this tightly timed line. Watch Geoff’s video on his You Tube channel.
2. An electric bus city
I’m grateful to Stagecoach Highlands managers Alex Flanagan (Divisional Traffic Manager) and Dave Simpson (Chief Engineer) for showing me the new infrastructure installed at Inverness bus depot which supports the recently delivered fleet of 25 Yutong E10 electric buses which were officially launched by Minister for Transport Jenny Gilruth on 2nd February.
All the city’s bus routes numbered 1 to 8 are now operated by electric buses making a big impact both visually in the city and contributing a significant improvement in environmental credentials.
Both Alex and Dave are effusive in their praise for the support they’ve received from both Yutong and Pelican during the infrastructure installation and fleet introduction as well as ongoing help when needed, including technicians flying in from China.
The buses have been warmly welcomed by passengers as well as drivers and technical staff who have all received training in the new technology.
13 double headed charging points have been installed around the edge of the large parking area at Stagecoach’s bus depot in Seafield Road enabling all 25 buses to be plugged in as they return to depot after a day’s work.
A new sub-station has been installed to ensure there’s enough power supply from the grid when it’s needed overnight.
It takes three hours to give the buses a full charge for the next day’s work. Routes 1 through 8 take 21 buses so if the four spare buses are available they’re used on other routes including short journeys on route 11 to Inverness Airport now that timetable has been enhanced back to its pre Covid half hourly frequency as far as the airport.
The bus network in Inverness has taken a major step forward with this investment and it’s good to hear everything is going well with this development following the official launch.
3. Inverness Airport railway station
It officially opened on 2nd February with passengers using it from the 3rd. £14 million for two platforms, a footbridge with lifts, two shelters, four times a set of four seats, a ticket machine, departure screens, a car park with EV charging points, two cycle storage shelters and a bus shelter.
A further £28 million has brought a new passing loop doubling the previous single track section, relaid upgraded track, improved signalling and, of course, the footpath to take passengers to and from the airport terminal building.
Some say the station is very much in the mould of new Scottish stations and when you compare it to the £15 million new station at Kintore further along the line towards Aberdeen which opened in October 2020 the resemblance is uncanny.
When I blogged about the new station at Inverness Airport in December there was much discussion in the Comments about whether it will catch on, bearing in mind the lengthy walk from station to airport terminal building.
Now the station is open it was interesting to pop back and see how popular it’s proving.
Taking a look at train arrivals and departures last Wednesday and Thursday afternoons there were 8-10 passengers alighting from trains and making their way on the footpath to the airport, but less people coming from the terminal building to the station.
This may be because there’s absolutely no reference to the new station in the airport terminal building. In the Arrivals area there’s a screen showing upcoming bus departures which leave from immediately outside (the half hourly route 11 and hourly route 27; the latter takes a longer route into the city), but no indication of train times let along signs indicating where the footpath starts to take you to the railway station.
My flight arrived at the airport soon after 15:00 giving me ample time before the next train into Inverness at 15:46 from the new station.
The screen showing upcoming bus departures confirmed one was due in six minutes which would have been ideal and got me into Inverness at 15:51 at a cost of £5.30.
But I was on a mission to try out the new station and luckily from my previous visit I knew which way to go …
…and headed off through the parking area for car hire companies and on towards the station.
It was a very challenging walk due to incredibly strong winds – gale force – with the footpath being very exposed to the elements skirting round the end of the runway, but I valiantly battled on …
…. as I saw the bus pass by on the nearby road.
It took 15 minutes to reach the station and that was at a slightly quicker than average pace despite the wind. On Thursday when I returned from the station to the airport with Geoff, we did it in just over 13 minutes, but that was, once again, more than an average pace, and this time no howling gale.
The fare from the station into Inverness is £5.20 with a 10 minute scheduled journey time. Now Stagecoach are running half hourly again there’s not much in it between bus and train. Although the bus takes longer at around 30 minutes, you obviously don’t need the time it takes for the walk, buy your ticket and access the platform.
Buses on routes 11 and 27 call by the station and do a circuit of the car park with a bus stop and shelter alongside platform 1. Unfortunately HiTrans (who look after bus stop displays) hasn’t yet got round to installing any bus departure information in the shelter which isn’t going to encourage passengers to make a connection between bus and train rather than attempting the walk. The real time sign in the shelter was also blank.
Trains don’t run on an even hourly headway having departures varying by a few minutes each hour, so the connections between bus and train are very hit and miss in any event, and most people will be better off walking.
There are temporary looking signs at the station which point towards the footpath, although I spotted one passenger looking puzzled as she consulted Google maps, which unfortunately directs you on the road which now deviates in a large arc and implies you’d take 23 minutes for the 1.2 mile trek.
This is also the route you’d think to take if you consulted the Onward Travel poster outside the station.
One other anomaly is that Stagecoach are referring to the station in its timetables as Dalcross Rail Station rather than Inverness Airport Rail Station but hopefully this will be corrected soon.
The online timetable for service 11 is part of one long pdf which includes all the other Inverness city routes in numerical order, so you have to know to scroll right down through routes 1, 2, 3, …. and 8 to get to 11.
These anomalies aside, numbers using the new station were encouraging to see bearing in mind it was only the first full week since the station opened. Despite the inconvenient walk the station may become successful.
See Geoff’s excellent video featuring the new Inverness Airport railway station on his YouTube channel here.
4. Autonomous bus
And finally I was hoping for better luck on this visit than in December when the driverless bus trial wasn’t running ironically due to no driver but sadly the vehicle was once again off the road, this time due to a technical fault and the word on the street is it may be some time until it’s fixed. But there are two other interesting autonomous bus trials about to start in Didcot and over the original Forth Road Bridge so I’m looking forward to trying those out.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS
A fulsome Inverness blog (as I predicted). The modular approach to new station construction is to be applauded if it helps get the price down. However, the lack of signage from the airport to the station does seem rather half arsed.
Good to see the EV buses but the lack of external promotion of their green credentials is a missed opportunity – if only they had Ray’s number?
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Who had Ray’s number when this shocking livery was intordy…
Thanks Roger, glad you were able to meet up with some of the Stagecoach guys!
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Great to see the new IVA station completed and in operation. The disadvantage is that the modern terminal building is situated at the far side of the airport. The new pathway between the two is a 1km walk or cycle and is indeed exposed to the elements.
Traveline Scotland is potentially confusing on connections, depending on how you search. It allows 20 minutes walk to connect with the 10 minute train journey to Inverness. As trains are roughly hourly (not clockface), waiting time is likely to be significant.
As buses typically run from the airport 3 times an hour (clockface) taking 25-45 minutes to the stop adjacent to Inverness station, these offer an overall quicker and more convenient option for many. The bus routes also stop near various city hotels, reducing the amount of handling of luggage.
The train is perhaps more attractive for passengers to the east of Inverness, with direct services to Nairn, Elgin and stations to Aberdeen. The new station is also an asset for the nearby new housing developments at Tornagrain Village which is also connected to it by a new active travel route, and 2 connecting buses from the station each hour.
Good to see the smart new electric buses on Inverness City services. However there have been ongoing problems with cancellations due to driver shortages, for example today over 20 individual city journeys are cancelled, plus some operational issues.
I’m currently writing some notes on these developments for an article for the next SAPT newsletter which will appear soon – those who are not members can find information on http://www.sapt.org.uk
Very nice but; what about badly-neglected Lincolnshires railways ? Graham Lilley
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Quite why they did not choose to run Elixabeth line trains from Reading to Heathrow I do not know. It would be a very useful link
Presumably because it would have needed a west-south junction to join up with the Heathrow spur. (The current junction faces east). Looking at the map, that would have meant quite a lot of property demolition.
Well it was planned to take the GWR line to Heathrow whether that plan is still axtive I do not no
There was a plan for a Western Rail Link to Heathrow. It was held awaiting funding but since then the Elizabeth line has been extended to Reading
It would have departed from the main line between Langly and Ivor it would have then gone under the mainline and into a cutting before going into 5kn of tunnel and into T5
What has this to do with Inverness? There are four updates here from the Scottish Highlands and your reply is regarding a train line in London. Of what relevance is that?
Noel . . . “random Bob”, I’m afraid. He has “form” . . .
If you stick around, you’ll get used to it . . .
Interesting developments there. The first time I took the Far North Line (class 37 and mk1s) we shot through one of these stations only to do an emergency stop and reverse up for the passenger patiently standing on the platform. The guard did make a comment about it possibly not being a good idea to wear a grey coat. Recently in Stockholm I saw (and used) metal semaphore discs that are used at ferry request quays, a great low-cost solution where the driver has a direct line-of-sight and a pair of binoculars.