A TOP railway official says ScotRail is planning to look at whether a half-hourly train service can be brought back to Largs for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Largs, Fairlie and West Kilbride have all had to make do with an hourly service since the line was electrified in 1987 and the previous double track replaced with a single line.

Now ScotRail says it is starting work on designing new timetables for future train services in Ayrshire - and as part of that it wants to talk to stakeholders about what would be involved in upgrading the Largs route to bring back a 30-minute service.

The current single track, and the length of the journey between Largs and Ardrossan South Beach, means there is not enough time to provide a half-hourly service between Largs and Glasgow.

But ScotRail says it is willing to look at the financial viabilty of upgrading the line in order to achieve this.

ScotRail service director David Simpson said: "We are now designing new future timetables for services in Ayrshire, which we believe will help grow passenger numbers further.

"Our future timetable will add more trains to the timetable at the times when our customers want to travel.

"We hope to share these plans with customers and stakeholders in Ayrshire in the coming months, and gain feedback on the proposals.

"One of the things we would like to explore with stakeholders is how a credible investment case can be made to upgrade the track and signalling north of Ardrossan so that West Kilbride, Fairlie and Largs could benefit from a half-hourly rail service."

The announcement comes less than two weeks after ScotRail introduced significant timetable changes on its Ayrshire services, including the removal of one of the busiest trains of the day from Largs, the 7.42am service from Glasgow Central.

The decision sparked a furious response from Largs commuters and politicians.

Mr Simpson continued: "In our consultation, we will stress that the current timetable in Ayrshire is an interim one and will use the feedback we receive to improve our plans before introducing them.

"In the meantime, we will continue to review how passengers respond to the new timetable and how reliably it operates."

Councillor Tom Marshall (Conservative, North Coast) said a 30-minute service would bring a significant economic boost to the town.

Councillor Marshall said: "It would be beneficial to see two trains an hour between Largs and Glasgow for many reasons.

"This goes away back to the days of Brian Wilson as MP, when the railway line was being electrified in 1987. He campaigned to ScotRail who were electrifying the line and initially wanted to stop the service at Ardrossan.

"One of the big problems was they couldn't double track it due to the Fairlie tunnel, and the compromise was reached of the single line going through the tunnel.

"The obvious thing to consider would be to put in a passing loop somewhere between Ardrossan and West Kilbride, as the way it is at the moment, there is not enough time to run another train on this particular route, other than a one-hourly service.

"I don't know if this is a fanciful notion but it would be a good thing if it was to happen - and could be a good boost for tourism."

The dimensions of the Fairlie tunnel mean it is not large enough to accommodate two electric trains at a time and their pantographs - the apparatus mounted on the train's roof which collects power through contact with an overhead line.

However, Councillor Marshall pointed out that the track in another tunnel, in Winchburgh, near Linlithgow, on the Glasgow-Edinburgh route, had been lowered to provide room for two trains and their pantographs - though that required major engineering work, and significant expens.

"It would be a much more attractive option to have a half hourly service," he said, "but a lot of it depends on passenger numbers.

"They are currently losing money per passenger, but if they can increase the attactiveness of travelling by rail - and making if half-hourly may well do so - it could have a lot of benefits and prevent the high numbers who travel to Largs and cross over to Millport by car."

Historically, the railway station at Largs had four platforms, including a turntable which used to be based near Hill Street.