The north east of Scotland has eight railway stations (with another under construction at Kintore). Historically, few local rail travel opportunities meant that travel to work by rail is small, just 1% at the time of Scottish Household Survey in 2017. Yet rail travel is regarded as a significant contributor to the Regional Transport Strategy and the importance of rail travel for business and leisure travel is not to be underestimated – more than half of Aberdeen’s 3 million passengers are making journeys over 100 kilometres (mostly to the central belt or beyond) – this compares to Edinburgh at 20% and Glasgow at just 5%.
ScotRail’s current plans will separate local services from InterCity services and provide an opportunity to:
- Improve capacity by using larger trains on the InterCity services;
- Reduce journey times between Scotland’s major cities (using faster rolling stock and timetable recasts, reduce the number of stops on long-distance journeys);
- Allow for more (and regular) stops at local stations;
- Enable a frequent, regular cross-Aberdeen local service;
- Unlock the potential for consideration of new stations as part of the local services.
Whilst this has led to some criticisms due to a reduction in direct services between some points, it is a truism that express services can’t also stop at all intermediate points. Nestrans is in discussion with ScotRail to see if minor changes to timetables could address some of the concerns whilst maintaining the benefits that express services bring.
The eight stations across the north east vary from Victorian era facilities to fairly modern and the standards at each reflect that.
Just four of the north east’s stations have full accessibility for mobility impaired passengers. Car parking constraints have been identified as a barrier to rail useage in a number of locations and further upgrades to provide electric vehicle charging points and enhanced cycle provision would also be desirable in many locations.
A substantial upgrade to Aberdeen Station is currently being planned by ScotRail in association with Aberdeen City Council, which should see a significant improvement in passenger experience at the station and improved integration opportunities with the bus station and ferry terminal as well as enhanced linkages into Aberdeen City Centre.
Performance, reliability and quality of service
As more than half of rail passengers from Aberdeen are making journeys of more than 100km or more, the journey times, comfort and reliability of InterCity services is of great importance. Connections north to Inverness and south to the central belt and beyond as well as stations in between are key to the economic success of the region and are used for business, commuting and leisure travel. Reliable journey times, sufficient capacity and on-board facilities are all key to creating a positive passenger experience.
The separation of InterCity high-speed express services from local services provides an opportunity to assess whether there is potential for adding calls into the local rail network. A new station is under construction at Kintore and scheduled to open by May 2020. Further new stations would increase access to the railway and offer a real alternative for travellers.
Consideration of new stations will need options brought forward and business cases developed to ascertain the viability for new stations both between Aberdeen and Dyce and between Aberdeen and Laurencekirk. A balance would have to be struck to determine an optimum number of stations to enable access to the railway whilst maintaining its primary function as a fast form of travel. Consideration of possible station locations will require to link to Development Plan considerations, with a view to proposed developments being well served by rail as well as existing residential and industrial areas.
Nestrans has commissioned consultants to undertake a study into the feasibility of reopening the former Formartine & Buchan line to Fraserburgh and Peterhead. The study, which also looked at the potential for a completely new alignment, concluded that demand was unlikely to be sufficient to justify the significant capital cost and revenue would not be sufficient to cover operational costs.
A further study looked at whether a partial reopening as far as Ellon could be justified, and although a scheme would deliver transport benefits, even that was estimated to cost between £270m and £380m, which would not provide a positive business case.
It is likely that reopening the Deeside Line, with its high car ownership levels, development on parts of the route and popularity as an active travel corridor would make it even more difficult to make the case.
It is therefore unlikely that railway line re-openings can be justified under existing Treasury criteria within the lifetime of this strategy, but alignments should be protected in case substantial changes happen in the future (such as changes to fuel costs, assessment and appraisal methodologies are updated or other factors make a reassessment possible).
The prospect for a new rail spur from the existing rail line into TECA and Aberdeen Airport has also been considered but found to be impractical due to high capital costs, the need for land purchase, property demolitions and impacts on the existing line between Aberdeen and Dyce.
The north east has rail freight depots at Craiginches (north and south), Waterloo Quay and at Raiths Farm in Dyce, as well as a number of smaller goods yards in Aberdeenshire. Whilst Nestrans supports and encourages the use of rail for transporting goods where appropriate, it is also recognised that commercial considerations make rail transport of goods difficult to achieve.
Nestrans current policy is to ensure that facilities, including freight paths and adequate rolling stock, are available to offer a rail freight option to and from the north east where appropriate, but do not envisage a wholesale move to the transfer of goods by rail.
Nestrans’ current thinking on our rail ambitions to 2040 focus on two key priorities and a number of schemes under each:
- Due to the high proportions of long-distance business and leisure travel by rail to and from the north east, the highest priority should be investment in improving the quality of InterCity services, ensuring reliability and performance and ensuring adequate capacity, as well as reducing end-to-end journey times between key centres.
- Rolling Stock improvement (new Aberdeen-London rolling stock and upgraded Sleeper service as well as High Speed Trains with greater capacity and faster running speeds between Scotland’s cities);
- Aberdeen-Central Belt improvement to reduce journey times by 20 minutes or more (options currently being investigated by Network Rail/Transport Scotland as part of City Region Deal Plus funding commitment);
- Aberdeen-Inverness Phase 2 enhancement to enable an hourly service with journey time of less than two hours (previous commitment in Strategic Transport Projects Review).
- The provision of improved access to the railway network by considering opportunities for additional stations, better integration of local services with InterCity and full access for all.
- Gain an understanding of the optimum number of stations to provide a viable local Cross-Aberdeen rail service, identification of sites for additional stations and delivery to provide access to the railway for an increasing proportion of the north east population;
- Upgrading of stations, including Aberdeen refurbishment, accessibility at Insch and improvements at other stations;
- Working with ScotRail and other partners to ensure a better balance between journey times and stopping patterns to maximise the benefits of rail and improve connectivity between local and InterCity services.