Rail campaign group challenges Highland Council for support for A9 and A96 duplication

Artist’s impression of a junction on a new section of four-lane road on the A9 south of Inverness.

A rail campaign group accused Highland Council of having a “head in the sand” stance on its support for improving major roads.

Friends of the Far North Line say the local authority is acting “as if there is no climate emergency” by pushing for the completion of the A9 and A96 duality.

In doing so, according to the group, the council “ignores the potential of parallel rail lines to generate massive benefits in terms of safety, connectivity and the environment”.

Friends of the Far North Line are campaigning for modernization of the Caithness to Inverness railway as well as links to Aberdeen, Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

In an open letter to the local authority, the group said: “The Highland Council, far from supporting measures to change Scottish transport priorities, is calling for spending on upgrading roads as if there is no was no climate emergency This is not a good idea for Scotland as delegates arrive for the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

“Heads must be pulled from the sand in the face of the emergency. It is well known that, especially for freight, rail represents massive fuel savings compared to motorized road transport by any means.

Ian Budd, Head of Friends of the Far North Line, said: ‘We are still awaiting the largely single-track Inverness / Perth line upgrades that were promised by the Scottish Government in 2008, but were quietly scrapped in in favor of the dual A9, yet the A9 had been completely rebuilt in the 1980s, while rail infrastructure has been reduced since then.

A train approaching Thurso station.  The Friends of the Far North Line are campaigning for the modernization of the railway between Caithness and Inverness.  Image: DGS
A train approaching Thurso station. The Friends of the Far North Line are campaigning for the modernization of the railway between Caithness and Inverness. Image: DGS

“While some city bypasses are required along the A96 from Inverness to Aberdeen, a full doubling at a cost of around £ 5 billion is unnecessary, particularly when the parallel railway, in much single track, has so much potential for improvement. “

Council Chairman Bill Lobban said: “Transport links should not be a problem between road and rail and while we desperately need a vastly improved and interconnected road network, we also need to. ‘an efficient rail system. The current proposal does the opposite by reducing rather than increasing the number of trains.

“Instead of spending billions on a high-speed rail link in the south of England, this money would be better used to improve access to the more remote parts of the Highlands, whether by road, rail and the airs.”

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

HHCA spokesperson Dr Kristina High said: “The Highland Council declared a climate and ecological emergency in 2019, so it is totally incongruous to continue to support dualism in the context of this declaration.

“While there is a plan for electric and hydrogen vehicles going forward, it will not be soon enough to mitigate the increase in emissions caused by the continued doubling.”

In August, Council Chairman Margaret Davidson welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to advancing plans to double the A9 by 2025 and the A96 by 2030.

The Lobban Council said at the time that the region’s economic recovery, prosperity and green future depended heavily on connectivity, and that doubling the two roads was also crucial in terms of public safety.

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