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Rail campaign group challenges Highland Council over support for A9 and A96 dualling


By Alan Hendry

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An artist's impression of a junction on a new section of dual carriageway on the A9 south of Inverness.
An artist's impression of a junction on a new section of dual carriageway on the A9 south of Inverness.

A rail campaign group has accused Highland Council of having a "head in the sand" attitude over its support for major road upgrading.

Friends of the Far North Line claims the local authority is acting "as though there is no climate emergency" by lobbying for the completion of A9 and A96 dualling.

In doing so, according to the group, the council is "ignoring the potential of the parallel railway lines to generate massive safety, connectivity and environmental benefits".

Friends of the Far North Line campaigns for upgrading of the railway from Caithness to Inverness as well as the connecting routes to Aberdeen, Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

In an open letter to the local authority, the group says: "Highland Council, far from supporting moves to change Scottish transport priorities, is calling for spending on road upgrades as though there is no climate emergency. This is not a good look for Scotland as delegates arrive for the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

"Heads must be pulled out of the sand in the face of the emergency. It is well known that, especially for freight, rail represents a massive fuel saving compared with road transport powered by any means."

Ian Budd, convener of Friends of the Far North Line, said: "We are still waiting for improvements to the largely single-track Inverness/Perth line which were promised by the Scottish Government in 2008 but were quietly dropped in favour of the dualling of the A9. Yet the A9 had been completely rebuilt in the 1980s, while the railway infrastructure has been cut back since then.

A train approaching Thurso station. Friends of the Far North Line campaigns for upgrading of the railway between Caithness and Inverness. Picture: DGS
A train approaching Thurso station. Friends of the Far North Line campaigns for upgrading of the railway between Caithness and Inverness. Picture: DGS

"While some town bypasses are needed along the A96 route from Inverness to Aberdeen, full dualling at a cost of some £5 billion is unnecessary, especially when the parallel, largely single-track, railway has so much potential for enhancement."

Council convener Bill Lobban said: “Transport links must not be a road versus rail issue and while we desperately need a vastly improved and interconnected road network we also need an efficient railway system. The current proposal is doing the complete opposite by reducing rather than increasing the number of trains.

"Instead of spending billions on a high-speed rail link in southern England, that money would be better used in improving access to the remoter parts of Highland – be that by road, rail and air.”

Last month Highland Healthcare for Climate Action (HHCA), a group of healthcare professionals, insisted the local authority’s support for dualling of the A9 and A96 made no sense given that it has declared a climate and ecological emergency.

HHCA spokeswoman Dr Kristina High said: “Highland Council declared a climate and ecological emergency in 2019, therefore continuing to support dualling is completely incongruous in the context of this declaration.

“While there is a plan for electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles in the future, this is not going to be soon enough to mitigate the increase in emissions caused by continued dualling.”

In August, council leader Margaret Davidson welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to progressing the plans for dualling of the A9 by 2025 and A96 by 2030.

Council Lobban said at the time that the region's economic recovery, prosperity and green future was heavily dependent on connectivity, and that the dualling of both routes was also crucial in terms of public safety.


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