Below are the timetables that we have negotiated with CalMac, as the best outcome that could be found within all the constraints. Discussions with CalMac were very compressed and late, and the Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth intervened to assist. The timetables will be published on the CalMac website soon, and they aim to make them available for booking on or shortly after October 13th.
Single Vessel Loch Frisa Timetable
This was the most problematic timetable, due to the slow speed and capacity of the Loch Frisa. As initially proposed, the impact on Iona was particularly poor, giving them only 2 hours to visit Oban. In addition, the first sailing from Craignure on Mondays (carrying school children) had to leave 15 minutes earlier than previously in order for the pupils to arrive at school on time (as well as having no breakfast available). Our initial request for a major vessel to work alongside the Loch Frisa at all times was denied. We then pressed for the provision of a major vessel on Mondays only. This too was deemed not possible. The only potential vessel for this job was the Hebridean Isles. Transport Scotland agreed with CalMac that the disruption caused to Islay on Mondays by borrowing their second vessel was not acceptable. Many on Iona feel with some justification that this was the prioritisation of whisky barrels over children.
As a final mitigation, we suggested that the bus from Fionnphort should be scheduled to arrive closer to departure time in Craignure on Monday mornings and for passengers (including school children) to be boarded directly onto the ferry, after cars have been loaded if necessary. This was accepted, and as a result the bus (and Iona ferry) timetable is being brought forward by just five minutes, instead of the 15 initially proposed.
We also proposed significant changes to sailing times through the day, in order to find the ‘least worst’ outcome for public transport users and Iona residents. Consequently the available time in Oban reduces from 6 hours to 4 compared with last year, instead of to 2 as originally proposed.
We have also proposed an additional early morning sailing from Oban, which requires a 4am positioning sailing from Craignure. Without this, there will be a severe shortage of capacity for delivery trucks and trades who travel to Mull in the morning. These additional early sailings have not yet been agreed, but we are insisting that they are an essential requirement, as a result of the Loch Frisa’s low capacity.
The Loch Frisa is offering earlier and later sailings than has been normal in previous winters, which is an improvement we have long campaigned for. However, due to the slow speed and low capacity of the Loch Frisa, this improvement is accompanied by many drawbacks:
- Sailings are likely to fill quickly, because the LF can only carry 34 cars (Isle of Mull carries 65)
- Public transport connections are compromised by the vessel’s slow speed, with many connections relying on less than 15 minutes interchange time (It used to be the case that Transport Scotland would not permit a published connection in Oban with less than 15 minutes available).
- Long gaps between sailings.
- Reduction in service to Iona.
Two Vessel Timetable
For a little over half the winter we are scheduled to have a two-vessel service. This will provide a big increase in sailing opportunities (49 return sailings per week, compared with 35 in previous years; or just 29 in pre-RET years). We could argue that running two vessels is a very wasteful way to provide this service uplift (one vessel of adequate speed and capacity could have done the job equally well.), but nevertheless this timetable represents a considerable service improvement for most users. It is now possible to catch the 08:57 train out of Oban any day of the week; to be in Oban before 9am every week day, and return home much later than before. Capacity certainly should not be an issue.
It’s worth noting however that crossing times are slower, and connections very tight at some times, not just because of the Loch Frisa’s slow speed, but also the lengthened cycle time of the MV Isle of Mull. For more than 30 years the IOM has operated to a 45/46 minute crossing, 15 minute turn-around time. In the nineties the crossing time was published as just 40 minutes. Now however CalMac are insisting on a 50/20 minute cycle time, for reasons that do not bear close scrutiny. The 50/20 cycle time was introduced during the Covid pandemic, due to the increased cleaning time required, but is now deemed ‘normal’. This decision has implications for our summer timetable also, and we will be questioning it.
We have achieved some improvements over the initial proposal from CalMac:
- An additional return sailing by the Loch Frisa, primarily to offer a 2pm departure from Oban on all weekdays.
- Some minor adjustments to improve some connections
- An additional return sailing by Loch Frisa on Sundays, to keep an early evening return option.
Also be aware that in the event of breakdown elsewhere in the network, the major vessel on our route (either Isle of Arran or Isle of Mull) is likely to be re-deployed. In these circumstances, the Loch Frisa single-vessel timetable will apply. Going on recent winters, this could be a frustratingly frequent occurrence…
MV Isle of Mull single vessel timetable
For three weeks in March, the Isle of Mull will operate on her own whilst the Loch Frisa is in dry-dock. This is a similar service to our previous ‘normal’ timetable, but significantly compromised by the application of a 50/20 cycle time. Many train connections are less than 15 minutes, and four entire round-trips have been dropped because of the longer cycle time.
At the centre of the contract held by David MacBrayne Ltd is the timetable; ie the contract is in great part defined by the timetable. Any timetable change is effectively a variation to the contract that has to be agreed by Transport Scotland. We will be questioning why DML felt confident bidding for a 45/15 cycle time in 2016, but now feel unable to fulfil that obligation.
Below is a calendar showing when each of the above timetables will apply. (Remember also that should our major vessel be needed for relief during the two-vessel periods, we will revert to the Loch-Frisa-only timetable)
Fionnphort – Iona timetables are still being finalised.
Lochaline-Fishnish and Tobermory-Kilchoan timetables are unchanged from previous years.
Below that is the winter Craignure – Oban timetable of 2019/20 for comparison.