Inverness Chamber of Commerce believes the Highlands will face a Nightmare Before Christmas on the rail network due to the area missing out on infrastructure improvements.
ScotRail unveils its new timetable on 15 December, but the chamber says there is little festive cheer for the north of Scotland.
ScotRail says the upgrades will transform Scotland’s Railway for years to come, with more seats, faster journeys and better services, including the introduction of brand new electric trains and a high-speed InterCity network.
The new timetable includes a new station for the Glasgow suburb of Robroyston, improving services between Ediburgh and Glasgow, more seats on trains between the cities on routes via Falkirk High, added services between Aberdeen, Dyce and Inverurie and between Montrose and Inverurie.
However planned upgrades for the Highland Main Line (HML), due to be introduced in March this year, have been delayed and are not due now until May 2020 as new high-speed trains for the route are not ready.
As part of its network upgrade, ScotRail had pledged to introduce refitted Class 158 trains on the Far North Line, while refurbished Inter7City high-speed trains will connect Scotland’s seven cities.
The changes were due to create an hourly service on the Highland Main Line and reduce journey times by 10 minutes, as well as extending platforms and tracks.
In another blow for the area, it was recently revealed that the delayed improvements will also mean that, from 15 December and for at least six months, passengers cannot reserve seats between Inverness and Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
Inverness chamber chief executive Stewart Nicol said: “ScotRail is making grand announcements about improvements to every part of the network, yet there is no mention of Inverness or the Highland Main Line, never mind anything further north or west, in the new timetable.
“We were expecting marginal journey time reductions of around ten minutes and service frequency enhancements but even these are not being delivered.
“I appreciate ScotRail is having difficulties with the delivery of new trains, but we are being left behind while other parts of Scotland are getting faster, better trains and improved services.
Stewart Nicol outlined the chamber’s concerns to Alex Hynes, Managing Director of Scotland’s Railway, in September when he was keynote speaker at the 2019 Highland Business Awards.
He added: “The ongoing situation is unacceptable. We are hearing daily accounts of chronic overcrowding on services to and from Inverness. The decision to not allow reservations will further add to the chaos and is another slap in the face for rail passengers traveling to and from the north.
“At this time of year services will only get busier and therefore the problem will be exacerbated. Instead of modest improvements to our rail services by Christmas, we are bracing ourselves for more delayed, overcrowded, frustrating and uncomfortable nightmare journeys.”