Monday, 14 February 2011

Last Train From Inverness

Imagine you’re inside a metal tube being hurled through darkness at great speed while just feet away some Doric-spikking quines screech along to the Communards’ Don’t Leave Me This Way in between swigs of rose wine and discussions about sex.

No, this isn’t some dystopian nightmare directed by John Carpenter. It’s the FirstScotrail 2120 Inverness-Aberdeen service. Passenger safety information notices are located throughout this train.

To celebrate Green Dad’s advancing years a bunch of us went out for curry while Groovy Gran babysat The Toddler. (In what way is Gran groovy, I hear you cry. She buys herringbone frock coats in TK Maxx and sings along to Bon Jovi when doing housework. And she worked in a record shop in the 70s and got Sparks’ autographs. OK?)

It was a rare treat for yours truly and Wife Features to be out for a dinner that didn’t come with high velocity ketchup spatter and a high chair. We kept our baby chat to a minimum and the discussion was as hot and serious as the madras sauce. At some point I’m sure we agreed it would be an interesting idea to give maiming rights to pensioners. It was a healthy discussion among consenting adults.

But then came time for our carriage home - the last stage out of Dodge. The latest you can ride the rails out of Dolphinsludge is 9.20pm. Pathetic. But I see there’s a plan to try to improve the frequency of the service, as well as installing a station at Inverness Airport. I really do hope the line gets earlier and later trains. I did ask Scotrail a while back about this and their response was written on a Mobius Strip. It went something like: there isn’t any demand for earlier or later trains on this service because we don’t run earlier or later trains. (My suggestion was that they put on some and tell people and see what happens but apparently this a crazy fool notion, like the earth being round or something, and I should go lie down.)

So, anyway, the late train is hideous. Thankfully it’s pretty rare to be on it. The commuter services are much more restrained. Going into Inverness on the 7.20 or 8.20 from Nairn usually involves sitting next to someone who’s fallen asleep at Forres or Elgin with their face all squashed up against the window.

This happened to me once on the Edinburgh-Inverness train after a long day in meetings. I woke up at Perth to the sound of giggling. Three young lads at my table seat got off. A few minutes into the onward journey north a lady across the aisle explained that while I’d been asleep the neds had been drinking and had piled their empties in front of me and had taken my photo. Excellent.

Falling asleep on public transport. Everyone must have a hilarious/chronically embarrassing story. This is surely enough of a reason to ensure loads of government investment in the rail and bus networks. You never hear funny stories about people who fall asleep in cars.

One way to stop nodding off on the train is to open the window. By open the window of course I mean strain to prise a tiny slit at the top of the carriage ajar a centimetre or so. The impossibly named Tyler Brulee of the Monocle has some first class thoughts on this subject.

As for cars, I’ve driven the tortuous A9 so many times I refuse these days to entertain the notion of going up or down it in the dark and simply don’t have the stamina for a return daytrip to Edinburgh or Glasgow, which I’ve had to do a few times in the past. There are few places to stop for a coffee and the idea of winding the window down to stay awake by blasting your face with freezing cold air always terrifies me - what if a deer or an owl happens to be crossing and gets in through the open window? Owl in the face, owl in the face!

I see Highland Council are promising to take on board comments about the West Link Road/Trunk Link Route/Southern Distributor Road/Inverness Bypass or whatever it’s called. There are concerns about Whin Park and the rugby pitches. It’s great to see those with concerns putting forward alternatives. It gets my goat, grinds my gears and flips my lid when people such as wind farm naysayers simply naysay and don’t say what we should do instead.

I like the idea of a viaduct like Glenfinnan or the one that goes over the River Nairn at Culloden/Clava. (The longest stone-built rail viaduct in Britain, anoraks.) A sensible crossing of the canal and river would be between Holm Mills and Torvean rather than a hotpotch through vital leisure space. And I bet function rules over form.

And, dare I suggest this, maybe one way to help pay for the crossing would be to charge the motorists who use it?

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