CNER FIO Network Rail
In 2022, CNER submitted a FOI request to Network Rail requesting information regarding previous investigatory works undertaken upon the Schoolhill and Hutcheon Street tunnels in Aberdeen.
We received a reply, and believe the response further justifies further analysis of this section of line, which forms a timetabling bottleneck for the campaigns primary aim of reinstating rail services to Peterhead and Fraserburgh via Ellon.
As part of the Aberdeen to Inverurie phase 1 redoubling works, upgrades to the tunnels were considered, but dismissed as out of scope for that particular project.
The FOI response outlines how Network Rail conducted a preliminary assessment of the tunnels, and concluded that to reinstate redoubled track, lowering of the trackbed would be required to facilitate double track, but also to enable full electrification of the route. No further analysis was completed after this initial phase.
Crucially, since redoubling the tunnels was not necessary for the A-I phase 1 project to meet it's goals, no independent analysis of the benefits of reinstating the tunnel tracks was undertaken.
Furthermore, no engineering assessment was carried out on the section to explore the technical feasibility and options.
Redoubling this section would have a significant benefits for the North East and wider rail network, allowing enhanced capacity, timetabling improvements and additional freight paths.
Major capacity and resilience improvements would see room for 30 plus trains per hour, up from 11 presently.
Double tracking this section, with full electrification, would mean enhancements for passenger services, and more paths for freight, making it feasible for carriage of Intermodal containers, Timber, whisky, military equipment and more from Dyce, Inverurie, Huntly, Keith and Elgin. This unlocks significant potential for increased growth in Scotland's rail freight market, supporting existing Scottish government aims.
Increasing the freight gauge would finally allow shipping containers to traverse the section, something which is not possible today.
This opens up an opportunity for Aberdeen to capture container ship traffic from Scandinavia and across the Baltic Sea, making use of the rail link at the main harbour, now that Oil and Renewables traffic are starting to move to the new Aberdeen South Harbour.
Finally, civil engineering works on the tunnels unlock the potential of a half hourly service on the proposed Buchan Railway, maximising the potential of the new line, and setting up Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Ellon for growth, development and regeneration in the years ahead.
CNER have produced an engineering proposal that delivers all of these benefits, while minimising, or eliminating expensive track lowering works.
This FOI result has now given the campaign a full understanding of previous works, and thus provides foundation for us to build a new study on top of what came before.
The feasibility study, and detailed options appraisals funded by the Just Transition Fund, intended to include this section. However, discussions with Network Rail and Scotland's Railway have allowed us to save spending money on investigating this section, and focus our funds on interventions 'north of Dyce'. Significant works will be carried out ahead of electrification through Aberdeen (scheduled for 2029), and while the specific designs have not been met, CNER are confident that the goals of Scotland's Railway for capacity and resilience through Aberdeen Station and the section Aberdeen to Dyce are aligned with the goals of CNER, if, for different underlying reasoning.
Discussions and design work on the works are continuing with ongoing engagement with Nestrans, Engineering consultants, Network Rail and others, and CNER have already been included in many of these 'closed door' discussions and high level talks, we have been glad to see that our input has been taken seriously at many of these events, and that we will be involved going forward in the process.