Rail experts look further down the track for West Highland Line future

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Modest levels of investment could see significant improvements to local rail services on the Glenfinnan/Mallaig stretch of the West Highland Line, as well as the line out to Spean Bridge/Bridge of Orchy.

That was one of the main takeaways from a presentation to the Friends of the West Highland Line AGM, held last week at a local hotel in Fort William, from Frank Roach, partnership manager at of HITrans (Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership).

Mr Roach’s presentation included a closer look at his ‘Fort Transit study’, which explores potential ways of easing traffic congestion in Fort William by increasing the frequency of train services between Fort William and stations from Bridge of Orchy to Mallaig.

This ‘Fort Transit’ study highlighted a number of potential timetable permutations, each involving different benefits to people who travel relatively short distances in and out of Fort William.

These hypothetical scenarios included the idea of introducing a new station at Torlundy for accessing Nevis Range, and at Carr’s Corner on the edge of Fort William, for instance, for serving Lochaber High School.

This would allow a modal shift to trains for high school students, similar to the highly successful change to trains for school children in Oban introduced a few years ago.

Mr Roach also presented a new GPS-based system, currently being developed for the Far North Line, that will reduce journey times in that trains will  only need to slow down for request stops if a button is pressed by a waiting passenger.

The GPS-based technology will allow the train’s location to be tracked in real-time and were the same system to be rolled out on the West Highland Line, it would not only speed up journey times, but would also allow accurate real-time travel information to be displayed on the customer information screens

Giving his reaction, Friends of the West Highland Line vice-president John Barnes told the Lochaber Times: ‘Frank Roach’s upbeat presentation centred on the possibilities being investigated by HiTrans, the regional transport authority, for developing the local rail network around a Fort William ‘hub’.

‘Frank demonstrated that with modest levels of investment significant improvements to local services could be achieved on the Glenfinnan/Mallaig line and out to Spean Bridge/Bridge of Orchy by making better use of the line’s spare capacity.’

Also addressing the meeting was Transport Scotland’s director of rail, Bill Reeve, who highlighted several possibilities being investigated for bringing much needed improvements and reliability to West Highland Line services, including the lengthening of platforms and increasing line capacity by modification/reinstatement of passing loops at various locations.

Mr Barnes commented: ‘He [Mr Reeve] hoped that the work of the West Highland Review Group, which had been on hold for the past two years, would soon be resumed, with the object of delivering such improvements, vital for the long term future of rail in the West Highlands.’