RAIL bosses have laid out two options for bringing a half-hourly train service back to Largs for the first time in 40 years.

But they’ve also warned that doing so would require major work costing millions of pounds.

ScotRail’s head of business development, Scott Prentice, laid out the options in a letter to Largs Community Council (LCC), whose members have been campaigning for years to improve the frequency of trains to and from the town.

Mr Prentice said the main obstacle to providing a 30-minute service lay in the capacity of the line between Saltcoats and Largs, which was reduced to single track when the route was electrified in the 1980s.

In a letter to Largs Community Council, Mr Prentice states his belief that a half-hourly service would cost millions of pounds to implement, and that a business case for the work would have to be prepared – and that in turn would need “much more detailed work to understand the costs and feasibility”.

In addition to LCC’s calls for a half-hourly frequency, Largs student Michael McKinlay launched a petition in January – so far signed by almost 900 people – making the same plea.

While there are two tracks for most of the route between Saltcoats and Largs, one of those, between Saltcoats and Hunterston, was not electrified 40 years ago.

In addition, the route is single track through the tunnel north of Fairlie station because of the limited clearance for overhead electric wires, while there are only single platforms at Ardrossan South Beach, West Kilbride and Fairlie.

In his letter, Mr Prentice esplained: "The rail journey time from Largs to Saltcoats is 19 minutes, meaning one return trip between Saltcoats and Largs uses 38 minutes' capacity of the single line.

“To operate a half hourly frequency, a 14 minute journey time would be necessary in order to fit four trips along the single line section within a 60 minute window. It isn’t possible to do the journey in 14 minutes and call at Fairlie, West Kilbride and Ardrossan South Beach.

“It is also only signalled for trains to operate towards Saltcoats, and there are no platforms on this line at West Kilbride and Ardrossan South Beach. This means trains which are arriving and departing Largs have to cross each other at Saltcoats – once a train has departed Saltcoats, no trains can depart Largs until that service arrives in the station.”


Largs and Millport Weekly News:

In his letter to LCC, Mr Prentice explained that the most practicable options for a half-hourly service would be to build a new loop for trains to pass each other at or near Fairlie station, or to electrify the line between Saltcoats and Hunterston (shaded orange in the simplified map above showing the area's railway lines) and to build new platforms at West Kilbride and Ardrossan South Beach.

He continued: “Option 2 [electrifying the second track and building new platforms] has more civil engineering and overhead power line works than option 1 [a loop at Fairlie], and is likely to be more expensive.

“However, option 1 does require major changes to the signalling system to allow trains to pass each other at Fairlie safely, and this will be expensive.

“Option 2 will result in journey times being around six minutes longer in each direction than at present, because the trains aren’t passing each other in the best place for a 30-minute interval timetable.

“Option 1 would also increase journey times, but by one or two minutes.

“ScotRail isn’t funded by the Scottish Government to deliver improvements to track and signalling.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: ScotRail Head of Business Development, Scott PrenticeScotRail Head of Business Development, Scott Prentice (Image: Newsquest)

"The normal process for works which need capital investment to deliver an improved rail service is for them to be assessed by a regional transport partnership (in this case SPT) to understand if such a scheme would complement other public transport initiatives planned for the area.

“I would suggest one of the local councillors may wish to raise it with North Ayrshire Council and SPT.

"SPT are now aware of the interest in a half hourly service and Network Rail and ScotRail will support feasibility studies and development of a business case.”

LCC chairman Jim Philips welcomed the step forward and asked Councillor Ian Murdoch if all the North Coast ward councillors could hold talks with local MSP Kenneth Gibson and take the issue up with SPT.

Cllr Murdoch said he believed LCC should also be part of those talks.