TILTING trains should run on lines north to Aberdeen and Inverness to cut journey times by 20 per cent so rail could better compete with road travel, a transport think tank has urged.
The move would shorten rail trips from Edinburgh to Aberdeen trips to less than 2 hours and to Inverness to 2 hours 40 minutes, according to the Scottish Association of Public Transport (SAPT).
The group argued that tilting diesel trains such as Voyagers, which can go round corners faster, would become available when other lines are electrified.
It fears that without significant improvements, rail travel to northern Scotland will become increasingly unattractive as driving times are reduced with the dualling of the A9 and A96.
SAPT chairman Dr John McCormick said: “The Class 170 Turbostars currently used by ScotRail are limited both in capacity and engine power to maintain principal intercity services into the future.
“Replacement diesel trains would have with faster acceleration and higher performance on gradients.
“Tilt operation to increase speed on curves - as used on the west coast main line - could save time in Fife, between Dundee and Aberdeen, and on the [Perth-Inverness] Highland Main Line.
“Speeds up to 20 per cent higher can be maintained on curves by tilting trains.”
Dr McCormick said the improvements would make train journeys from Edinburgh to Aberdeen nearly half an hour quicker than by car, and to Inverness around 15 minutes faster.
SAPT said other measures could include a new, more direct line between Inverkeithing in Fife and Perth, to cut a further 25 minutes from Edinburgh-Inverness journeys, and upgrades to other lines through Fife to reduce journeys to Aberdeen and Inverness by another seven minutes.
However, Network Rail told The Scotsman that tilting trains, which have heavier carriages than current trains on the routes, may not be any quicker because they may have to go slower over bridges with weight restrictions.
The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency, said it would be seeking improvements to the services as part of the next ten-year ScotRail franchise from 2015.
A spokesman said: “Bidders for the next ScotRail franchise will be required to demonstrate how they will improve the comfort and suitability of trains operating on longer distance routes, including services from the Central Belt to Inverness and Aberdeen.”
He said there would also be “substantial improvements” to the [Perth-Inverness] Highland main line and Aberdeen-Inverness route by 2019.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “We are currently working with Transport Scotland to identify and implement initiatives which will enable journey time improvements on the Highland main line.”
He said by 2019, “we are committed to reducing journey times by ten minutes and delivering one service an hour between Inverness and Perth, extended onwards to either Glasgow or Edinburgh.”