ScotRail has just told us about an excellent feature on the National Rail Enquiries website, it's called Pocket Timetables and it will produce a custom timetable which you can read, or download as a .pdf file, containing journey information in four hour slots for outward and for return journeys on the day(s) of your choice.
The page can be found at https://ojp.nationalrail.co.uk/service/pockettimetable/search
For something so useful it is extremely well hidden. If you did not know about it you probably wouldn't stumble across it. If you knew it existed and tried to find it yourself you would have to start at the National Rail Enquiries home page, then near the bottom of the page in a box choose "Travel Tools & Alerts", which takes you to a page headed "Travel Tools". You would then need to click on "Timetables" in the little box called "Related Links" which takes you to a page called "National Rail Timetable" and there at last is a yellow button labelled "Get your Pocket Timetable"!
Now that ScotRail does not produce timetables showing connections (and has no plans to do so) it is difficult to plan a journey involving a change. For example, Tain to Elgin involves two timetables and this facility makes it really easy, showing the change required, the times at Inverness and the journey duration.
Since writing the above ScotRail has informed us of another website that offers a similar service, with whole day's timetables being given. This is Swiss Railways page:
In May Professor Iain Docherty issued a report called ‘Scotland’s Railway after the Pandemic’. In September ScotRail carried out a public consultation, 'Fit For the Future' about its planned timetable changes. This is Transform Scotland's response.
It is a short document but well worth reading - especially by Scottish Ministers who appear somewhat slow to grasp the transport changes needed to achieve their own decarbonisation targets.
Since the initial press release from The Highland Council instructing the Scottish Government not to reduce its commitment to dualling the remainder of the A9 between Inverness and Perth and the A96 which we reported on in our September magazine - The Highland Council on the Wrong Side of the Road there have been several more exchanges in the Highland press.
An article on 1 October in the Press & Journal concerning the release of road casualty figures for the Highlands, prompted The Highland Council to step in again, demanding the full dualling of the roads. We could not let this pass unchallenged as expanding road provision is the wrong priority as we tackle climate change.
Our aim is to promote discussion and to persuade The Highland Council to take the urgent need for investment in Highland railways seriously. In the run-up to COP26 it is surprising to see the council so unaware of what's needed.
We have had positive communications from the council since our open letter and have been offered a meeting to discuss how the council can improve its support for rail.
Our September magazine has been in our members' hands for a couple of weeks now. It is filled with the usual mix of news, opinion and a bit of history.
Particularly worth reading is a very long response from a group of leading railway professionals to the Williams-Shapps Plan, Great British Railways. Worth bearing in mind while reading it that it was decided not to involve the devolved governments in any way. It's not clear how its plans will affect railways here.
If you're not yet a member all you need to do is click here where you can sign up using PayPal or other methods. We hope you decide to join us. New members receive a complimentary copy of our 25th Anniversary book while stocks last.
We're delighted that Barry Doe, "Fare Dealer" columnist gave us a great mention in the current issue of RAIL magazine (Issue 940). If this inspires you to join us please head to our membership page - you can even use PayPal to make the process easier!
Our membership has increased considerably in the last year which helps to make us a louder voice.
We use our magazine as an important campaigning tool, sending copies to a large number of officers in the Scottish rail industry, as well as to many MSPs - one of whom commented in an email only last week, "Love the train and always read your Far North Express."
We are holding a very brief AGM to cover the usual business matters. It will be on Zoom at 10:00 on Friday 1 October.
The papers are being emailed or posted to members. If any member does not receive the link please email to request it.
We are not holding a Conference this year, our AGM & Conference for 2022 will be on 17 June in Dingwall.
We've had a request from the Friends of the West Highland Line for any information anyone might have about a company called McCreath, Taylor and Co. Ltd. which was based in Antrim. They had a branch office/depot at Muir of Ord in the 1950s and also operated at Lentran station on the Far North Line.
The company imported tar and bitumen from Ireland into Ardrossan and it was transported by rail in Scotland. They also had a fleet of road tankers.
If you do have any knowledge of this company please email us.
This year marked the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the Duke of Sutherland's Railway (Golspie to Helmsdale).
Unfortunately there wasn't enough space in the next issue of Far North Express, which is at the printer at this moment, to include a hoped-for catch-up about the Fourth Duke's 1895 locomotive which is at Beamish under restoration after spending many years in Canada.
We will cover this in the future, but in the meantime here is the Beamish blog from May 2021 marking ten years since Dunrobin's return.
This is the first time that ScotRail has conducted this exercise. There have already been sessions with stakeholders, such as ourselves, to arm us with information about ScotRail's reasoning for its proposals.
We hope that many people will support ScotRail's initiative by visiting the website and sending in responses. Follow these links:
The consultation period ends on 1 October.
Sadly we have had to take the decision to postpone the public Conference element of this event from 1 October to a date in June 2022. The situation with Covid is just too volatile for us to remain committed to the October date.
We will hold a short AGM by Zoom on 1 October. This will be for members only, as the AGM always is.
We hope that the Conference in 2022 will be at the venue planned for this year - Ross County FC in Dingwall.
This new report from Transform Scotland tackles the issue of new road construction in Scotland being based on political considerations, rather than need, and how this flies in the face of the Scottish Government's declared policy of modal shift away from road to tackle the danger of extreme climate change.
FoFNL never stops talking about this problem. Unfortunately, even the most pro-rail MSPs in Holyrood seem to have difficulty with the idea of explaining to the electorate that it is no longer viable to spend money on gigantic road projects whose original justification was an ever upwards increase in road use.
Yes, all car drivers, including the writer of these words, prefer zipping along a dual carriageway uninterrupted by slower vehicles - we all have to realise that collectively we can no longer afford that luxury. The Scottish Government must take a strong lead in this.
Coinciding with the start of a new Holyrood session, our May magazine has now been published.
It is also available now online, published there a month later than the printed copy, as always.
Copies have now been posted to our members. If you'd like a copy yourself, and are not yet a member, you could join right now - just visit our membership page. New members also receive a complimentary copy of our 25th Anniversary book, FoFNL 25, which normally costs £5.
As always, we have assembled interesting articles stretching in time from the 150th anniversary of the opening of the "Duke of Sutherland's Railway" (Reaching Helmsdale on the Far North Line), to the latest news, as well as a 'report' on the Scottish Government's achievements since 2007 for rail in the Highlands.
If you're looking for something to read, we have copies of this issue as well as our previous three editions available for purchase at £3.00 to cover UK p+p.
If you live outside the UK, please email for a price.
|FNE 80 - May 2020||FNE 81 - September 2020||FNE 82 - January 2021||FNE 83 - May 2021|
Now that the new Government is in place we hope that all the MSPs remember the election pamphlet we sent them at the start of the campaign.
We asked all 409 candidates who received a copy of the pamphlet to let us know that they understood the need for rapid progress in the building of essential infrastructure for the railways in the Highlands. We received a 3.4% response rate, which was pretty disappointing. Perhaps all the candidates did understand, but were too busy campaigning to let us know.
It was gratifying for us, as an apolitical campaign group, that the expressions of support came from all parties, with LibDem, Conservative and SNP evenly split, one Labour response but nothing from any Green candidate.
Since posting this we have been told that Ariane Burgess, the lead Scottish Green Highlands and Islands candidate, had in fact sent us a message of support on behalf of all the Green candidates - somehow it had gone missing!
In any case the Scottish Green Party has always understood what needs to be done, as shown by their excellent Rail For All report.
At this moment the best thing the Scottish Government could do for railways in Scotland is to put aside politics and adopt Rail For All as policy!
Our AGM & Conference were due to be held on Friday 18th June in Dingwall. At this moment it is impossible to tell whether Covid restrictions will have been eased enough to allow such a gathering, therefore we have postponed the event to 1 October.
The intention is to keep to the same venue, Ross County Football Club, but we will find out in June, once the fixtures lists are made, whether that will be possible. If not we will try and find another suitable venue in Dingwall.
May's Holyrood parliamentary election was the first since the Climate Emergency was declared in 2019.
FoFNL sent an 8-page pamphlet to all the candidates from the five main parties to try and re-focus their minds onto rail.
Scottish Government policy is currently to achieve modal shift from road to rail. However, its actions show that it prioritises very costly road widening schemes in the Highlands and North-East Scotland over upgrading the main intercity routes out of Inverness. Apart from the recent 16 miles of conversion of the Inverness-Aberdeen route to double-track, these lines currently have significantly less capacity than they did at the end of the 19th Century.
The probable £10,000 million being spent on widening two roads, which are already two-directional all the way along, unlike the railways which are single-track with very few passing places, would have made an enormous improvement to these intercity railways.
The safety justification for dualling the A9 and A96 has a hollow ring when you take into account the fact that the introduction of average speed cameras on the A9 has produced a 77% reduction in fatalities, and rail is many times safer than road; there were 168 road deaths in 2019 (most recent available figures) and no rail deaths. The three fatalities at Carmont in 2020 were the first in Scotland for 13 years.
This report by Deltix Transport Consulting was commissioned by the Scottish Green Party to produce wide-ranging proposals for the railways of Scotland. This is the kind of 'big thinking' that we think is necessary. It is a 'can-do' approach.
Transform Scotland, of whom FoFNL is a member, has joined forces with Paths for All, RSPB Scotland, Sustrans Scotland, and WWF Scotland, to send a strongly-worded call to the Scottish Government to act on its declared policy of modal shift from road to rail, and to abandon its incompatible plans, including dualling the A9 and A96.
The letter is in response to the government's draft Infrastructure Investment Plan. The reasons for sending it are explained in the Transform blog.
Whilst FoFNL is an apolitical organisation, we can only applaud this campaign which has been set up by the Scottish Green Party to persuade the Scottish Government to act on the promise it made in 2008 to invest properly in the Highland Main Line.
The government protests that it has been investing in the line. This is true - £57m has been spent on extending a couple of passing loops and modernising some signalling. This does not compare well with the £3bn currently being spent on dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness.
It is the railway that needs to be dualled as most of it is 'single-track-with-passing-places', hardly the kind of infrastructure you would expect the government to provide between its cities, especially having declared a 'climate emergency'.
The campaign can be found here. Please follow the link and fill in the form to send the Minister a message. Forget party politics, this is bigger than that.
This is not a local issue either. We support this because it is the rail route passengers use to get to the Far North Line from most of Scotland and further south.
Somehow the Scottish Government needs to realise that it has obligations, as declared in 2008 by the then First Minister on a visit to Inverness, referring to the HML, "Railways must at least compete with the roads."
Transport Scotland has published the Scottish Government's Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan.
We are very pleased to see all this in print now, showing the government's commitment to removing the use of fossil fuels from the railway as far as possible by 2035.
We were aware that electrification to Tain was being considered - it won't happen for quite a long time, but it's good to see it in print. A copy of the Plan is available here.
It is vital now to convince ministers and other MSPs that the Highland Main Line and the Inverness-Aberdeen line are doubled before being electrified. It would become a much more expensive process after electrification, unless full provision was made for double-track bridges etc, as well as avoiding placing masts where the additional track will be.
HITRANS has commissioned SYSTRA to undertake a review of the current operation of, and investment in, the Highland Main Line (HML) between Perth and Inverness. This report seeks to understand the possible interventions required to address journey time and connectivity issues that previous investments have not resolved.
This is well worth a read. The ground it covers will be familiar to readers of FoFNL's magazine since the HML shortcomings are a major topic in every issue!
You can read it here.
FoFNL has now added the option to pay for membership using PayPal.
This means you can join us without having to fill in an application form and post it!
Just to remind you, we offer one year's membership for £15.00, continuous membership for £12.00 per annum and Life membership for £120.00. All can be purchased at the click of a button.
If you're not yet a member please head to our joining page now!
All new members receive a free copy of FoFNL 25 while stocks last!
FoFNL has published a 76pp A5 book to mark the 25th anniversary of its formation.
The book contains articles written specially, a 'timeline' of excerpts from our magazines/newsletters and other documents, and some pages of beautiful photographs of the line.
It gives an idea of what rail campaigning consists of - and how long it can sometimes take for things to come to fruition!
It is available directly from us, priced £5.00 including p+p.
If you do not wish to purchase using PayPal please either send an email to email@example.com and make a BACS payment to:
Acc no: 00358919
Sort code: 80-91-26
IBAN: GB11 BOFS 8091 2600 3589 19
using your name as reference,
or post a cheque, payable to Friends of the Far North Line for £5.00 to:
3 Villafield Loan
Last week the long-awaited Far North Line Review Team Report was signed off by ministers and its plans published by Transport Scotland.
Because of the way projects are now managed, the main infrastructure work is not listed in detail as it is still going through early development work. Unlike previous Control Periods where projects were announced by Transport Scotland before some of the detailed work had been done, and were therefore at risk of running over budget, definite commitment will now be given once all the costs are known. This is the 'pipeline' approach, where projects which will be started in the current Control period (CP6) are not yet officially committed.
From the point of view of campaigners, such as FoFNL, this can be frustrating. Suffice to say at this point that, given that the likely cost of the works outlined in the Report is already known, and that the whole new service specification (timetable and service pattern) which has been agreed in the Report depends on the infrastructure work being done, it is hard to see a scenario in which it will not take place. We just hope it's pretty soon!
FoFNL now has a page on Facebook.
We are hoping our page will stimulate interest in what we do and the Far North Line in general. Please have a look at our page, like it (if you do!) and share it with your friends.
The Scottish Natural Heritage website used to carry some excellent audio guides to the Far North Line. They were in MP3 format and were ideal for listening to on the train.
We now have them hosted on our site.
If you are travelling along the Far North Line you might like to enhance your journey by downloading our guide, written by Richard Ardern, one of our committee members and very prolific article writer for Far North Express!
The Guide is in .pdf format so you will be able to follow it on any smartphone or tablet.
The Friends of the Far North Line is the campaign group for rail north of Inverness, lobbying for improved services for local users, tourists and freight.
Our website will give you an insight to FoFNL's successes and concerns. You will find a complete collection of newsletters dating back to 1998 as well as an archive of interesting documents.
This is a map of the Far North Line which is situated in the northernmost part of Scotland. Hovering the pointer over the name of a station will display a local photo.
Our aims include:
Our 1995 conference for rail interests was the precursor of the Highland Rail Partnership a collaborative body spanning the Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, local Enterprise companies, rail operators, the Friends Groups and others.
Campaigning successes include the Easter Ross commuter train, Beauly and Conon Bridge stations, all-year Sunday trains, initiating the re-introduction of significant freight, the transporting of extremely long lengths of pipe to Wick, and the building of a footbridge alongside the Shin Viaduct. A substantial increase in freight is still needed and we will continue to persuade haulage contractors that there is an alternative to driving long distances over inadequate roads. Perhaps our most surprising, and gratifying, achievement was persuading the powers-that-be that retention toilets could be fitted to the Class 158 trains - having been assured it would be impossible!
In the mid 1980s there was a proposal to include railway in the A9 Dornoch Firth Crossing, thereby shortening the route of the line by around 25 miles. This did not come to fruition and FoFNL takes the view that the money needed for such a project now will not become available.
We continue to seek shortened journey times and hourly services between Inverness and Tain. We aim to work in partnerships, we publish a thrice yearly Newsletter, we are democratically governed through our AGM and a geographically representative committee.
If you would like to join The Friends of The Far North Line please download, print out and complete the application form. If you prefer, you can phone our Membership Secretary on +44 (0)1334 475311. Annual membership is only £15.00 (£12.00 if you set up a standing order) for individuals and £17.00 for corporate or organisation membership.
Jamie Stone MP
Joint Vice Presidents:
Rhoda Grant MSP
Maree Todd MSP
Hon. Secretary (Co-opted until next AGM):
29, Ethelwulf Road
36 Learmonth Place
Richard Ardern, Inverness
Mike Lunan, Thurso
Iain MacDonald, Alness
David Spaven, Edinburgh
Malcolm Wood, Ardgay
The photo of Culrain station was taken by Peter Van Den Bossche and the photo of Altnabreac by Dennis Troughton. Both are used under the Creative Commons Licence.