This section contains some old correspondence and gives a flavour of the work of The Friends
24 April 95
Dear Mr Prescott,
At a meeting at Highlands and Islands Enterprise last Friday I was surprised to learn that no applications for Objective One funding had been received from Railtrack. The Programming Document clearly shows that 20 new level crossings, 3 new stations and track resignalling are projected by the European Commission.
I understand that 95% funding is available, and that the procedure is fairly simple while Railtrack remains in the public sector. I would like to know why you have lodged no bids for Objective One funding, and enclose a memorandum on suggested upgrading for the Far North Line, measures which could save 20 minutes on the Inverness-Thurso journey time.
I look forward to hearing from you.
cc. Highlands and Islands Enterprise
Dennis Malone, Partnership Programme (Objective 1)
Dr Brian Mawhinney, Secretary of State
Robert Maclennan MP
Charles Kennedy MP
John Ellis, Scotrail
5 July 1995
Dear Mr Ellis,
I enclose a 2736 signature petition undertaken by Mrs Catherine Murray, a B&B operator from Thurso, and passed to me by Bob Maclennan MP. This clearly indicates the strength of opinion against the current timetable that restricts travel from the south. Business people in Caithness are noticing a decline in the number of tourists because of the difficulties in reaching the area in one day from other parts of the country. When timetable changes were imposed they were partly justified by Scotrail on feedback from Caithness Christmas shoppers using your excellent £5 fare, who did not want to wait around until 1800. This petition firmly demonstrates the true feelings of Caithness residents. My own records show a downturn in passenger numbers particularly on the 1645. I hope that you will be able to reinstate the timing to allow connections once again with Cental Belt and Aberdeen.
I also note that in your speech to the conference in Fife on Monday you referred to improvements in Far North Line journey times through infrastructure improvements (of the modest kind ie Georgemas) and through a new look at the timetable. Recently a train left Wick 34 minutes late, Thurso 23 minutes late and arrived in Inverness 4 minutes early! You also mentioned possible changes to the frequency of the service. Does this suggest a commuter service from Tain, arriving before 0900? Many people now travel daily to the Highland Capital for work and education and training. Currently the bus departs Tain 0735 arriving 0840 (limited stop) and 0759 arriving 0950. Day Return fare is £5.50 which is comparable to your £6.60 Highland Railcard fare. I believe a service at 0755 dropped off the 0700 northbound arriving at 0850 would be a success. I will be pressing the point with HIE and HRC as I believe they should offer support for a trial service.
I enclose information about our conference, and wonder whether you might be able to attend as a speaker?
I look forward to hearing from you.
6 September 1995
A quick update on rail matters.
Ledmore marble - they had a site meeting at Lairg recently but things are progressing rather too slowly. Would you be able to ask David Hughes how things are going?
Rockwater - I gather the next delivery will be by road because the steel plant on Teesside is not rail served, and British Steel aren't prepared to risk (?) loading onto truck and off-loading onto rail. Willie Watt is coming to the conference. I hope we can impress the importance of rail haulage. John Holwell has offered a competitive price.
Coal - John H is quoting for coal to Caithness from Selby (similar to the four trainloads to Inverness.) There is a lot of interest in freight; we just need the first train to run up here and others will follow suit. JH stayed with us recently whilst touting for business and had a useful meeting with Norfrost.
Georgemas - Paul Prescott has said it is no longer feasible. Costing is now £400,000. I have a copy of a letter from Iain Robertson HIE asking Paul to come up with their strategy for decreasing journey times at the conference. I am glad that HIE are taking this so seriously. I have a meeting with Chris Dickenson Railtrack Production Director on the 19 Sept when he visits the Marrel. I don't suppose you will be up here then? Objective One money is there if only we can get HIE to manage the project. Railtrack don't really want to do anything apart from save their money (interesting £189 million profit today- they don't spend much of the £200 million Scotrail pay them).
Conference - Julian Worth, MD of Transrail now coming as conference is of sufficient importance. Brian Wilson, Charles Kennedy, Duncan Mcpherson all speaking. Paul Prescott doesn't want to come, but pressure will persuade him otherwise. The entire Roads & Transport Committee will be there. FoFNL are also exploring a partnership with RSPB at Forsinard. We hope to show the Tartan short film 'The Pen' made at Dingwall and on the trains. The RUCC will be represented and also many Community Councils. John Ellis and John Boyle are on the line on 5 October. We will be meeting them. Again, if you are up here your presence would be very welcome.
A commuter service from Tain is now being talked about. I have tried to persuade them to send the unit that forms the first Kyle train up to Tain and back. No additional rolling stock will be needed. There are a lot of young people particularly who have to go to Inverness for education/training in addition to those working in the capital. Finally- we did get the last train time changed!
Frank Roach, Secretary
In your coverage of our Far North Line Conference (issue 266) you wrote at length about what is not going to happen in the near future - the Dornoch Bridge - and scarcely mentioned the sucesses. I thought you were supposed to be encouraging readers to actively campaign. The Friends of the Far North Line organised the conference themselves, and have single-handedly brought about the establishment of a Development Partnership involving Scotrail, Railtrack, Transrail, Highland Regional Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. This local, voluntary initiative of national significance for rural lines was worthy of greater acknowledgement.
Frank Roach Secretary
To: The Chief Constable, The Northern Constabulary
21 February 96
In view of your parlous budgetary situation, may I suggest where a small saving could be made. Twice a week a police vehicle escorts lorries carrying pipes from the Dornoch Bridge through the Berriedale Braes on the A9. Could you give the Friends of The Far North Line the cost to the taxpayer of this service, as we believe that were this cost to be incurred by the haulier then rail transportation would then be cheaper than road haulage. Of course, the potential blockages on the road would also be taken away, thus providing an additional environmental advantage. I look forward to your reply.
cc. Robert Maclennan MP
Charles Kennedy MP
John Holwell, Transrail
Philip Shimmin, Director Transport, Highland Council
Jamie Stone, Highland Councillor, Tain
Financial Assistance For Computer Purchase
Dear Mr Jack,
I am writing in support of our application for financial assistance
for a computer. This will assist in our aim to encourage development of the Far North Line. It
will be used for the following:
Community Information. The acquisition of a computer will enable us to produce an individualised A4 flyer for each community on the line detailing times and prices from their local station to Inverness/ Central Belt etc. It will also enable us to produce documentation for Community Councils and the Station Adoption Scheme.
Press Releases. Much of the material on rail in the Far North in the media has been disseminated by us. A system with a fax modem will enable us to respond very quickly to news at any hour of the day. For example, when the Kildary Bridge was hit before Christmas, holding up Caithness flagstone that had to be in Belfast that week, we were able to interview key players and issue press releases late on a Saturday night. Good TV and newspaper coverage ensured that the bridge was reinstated in record time. By contrast a bridge was also struck near Glasgow in the same week and hardly got a mention.
Walking Guide. The proposed guide for walks from each station on the line, as discussed with Mr Ballantine and planned for next year, will be written by the Friends who are undertaking to try each walk this year.
Preparing reports. FOFNL in the past year has produced reports for many bodies including the Rail Users' Consultative Committee, the Office of Passenger Franchising, the Consumers' Association, and HIE.
Correspondence. The Friends are in regular correspondence with rail operators and members of parliament and local councillors, ensuring that our economically fragile area is not further marginalised by a diminution in rail services.
Membership. The computer would facilitate the maintenance of membership records.
Newsletter. With a circulation of over 250, the newsletter is a vital
tool in promoting the line.
As we do not have secretarial support or any full time staff, as a voluntary group our effectiveness would be greatly increased if we were able to purchase our own machine.
If you have any further queries please get in touch.
I'm looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday 2 July. I hope that I may be able to have a meeting with you and Donald Macpherson before the Thurso meeting. I'd like to discuss the Infrastructure Study with you. I gather the test run on the line recently showed up some interesting potential time savings. I shall be briefing Bob Maclennan after Tuesday on the current situation because he has a meeting with Robert Horton coming up. I'm on holiday now so you can ring any time.
7 July 96
I am very disappointed to learn that the Tain Commuter Service is not to go ahead in September, particularly as you gave firm assurances at the Highland Festival naming. It comes in the same week as the ridiculous STS Report 'The Economics of Scottish Railways' which I am doing my best to counter, but nevertheless it makes people feel anxious for the future. I would like to know on what basis the Tain service is deemed unviable. I look forward to hearing from you.
With best wishes,
7 July 96
Dear Mr Dickinson,
Concern has been raised about the frequency of rail testing in the Highlands.
I understand that all rails were scanned every year, but now this is being done
only every other year.
With increased freight traffic and the possibility of faster entry and exiting from loops, this maintenance schedule may cause problems. Has this point been considered in the Infrastructure Study?
I look forward to hearing from you.
To: Mr David Bertram Chairman CRUCC
Ref: Tain Commuter Service
4 Sept 96
Dear Mr Bertram,
I was most interested to learn of your comments concerning the Tain commuter train at today's RUCC meeting in Stirling, and of your intention to take the matter up with Roger Salmon. As you pointed out, the privatisation process has created a hiatus preventing any development taking place. As the line's user group, we have lobbied hard for local authority support for the service, once it became apparent that John Ellis' promise of the new service at our conference in October 95 had been over-ruled by the British Railways Board. The figure of quoted of a £37000 loss is arrived at after revenue is calculated at only £2000 per year - £40 per week!
May I wish you luck with OPRAF. I am copying this letter to Patrick Hetherington, Assistant Director Passenger Rail Franchising Edinburgh and Cameron Kemp of the Highland Council.
Dear Ms Millar,
I am writing to you to complain about delays to my rail journey on Friday 27 December. I was taking my mentally-handicapped sister back to London travelling on the 1043 Inverness-Aberdeen-Edinburgh, having been unable to secure reserved seats on the 1030 direct service. We were booked onto the 1600 Waverley-King's Cross. At Dundee we were informed that we would not be travelling via Kirkcaldy, and passengers for Fife got out, only to be told minutes later to re-board, as the driver did not know the route via Stirling. We were held at Inverkeithing for half an hour, finally arriving at Waverley after a detour some 45 minutes late. We had to board the 1700 GNER service to King's Cross, fortunately being able to get seats, and I had to phone my cousin to get him to meet us not at 2038 but at 2155. We actually arrived in London at 2215, where I left my cousin to return my sister to her hospital in Epsom, and caught the sleeper back to Glasgow. The delay at Inverkeithing was a source of great inconvenience to us.
I look forward to hearing from you,
10 January 97
Dear Mrs Grant,
I understand that Jim Fry has asked if you would be prepared to become a Vice-President of the Friends and we are honoured that you have accepted. Your bold vision in developing freight services on the line will secure its future and prove the environmental and economic gains of rail haulage.
The most recent copy of our newsletter will be sent to you shortly, but our current concerns are the follow up to the Infrastructure Study carried out for the Highland Network Rail Partnership , formed as a result of our October 95 conference; ensuring that whoever wins the Scotrail franchise has plans for the line; and assisting in finding potential freight customers. For example, Bob Maclennan is soon to see the Chairman-Elect of the Argyll Group, and will mention the possibility of the Safeway traffic being conveyed on Road Railers, which would lead to a much desired daily service. Discussions with Bob have also thrown up the question of high fuel prices in the North. I wonder if you have considered getting fuel in from the dealer who is sending the aviation spirit for the airport?
Thank you once again.
4 April 97
Dear Mr McPherson,
On behalf of the committee of the Friends I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as the Managing Director of Scotrail. I have already raised some points with Mac Mackintosh about loco-hauled trains on the Highland main line, all year round Sunday trains on the Far North line and the Tain Commuter service. I enclose a copy of the letter that was sent to all franchise bidders. I look forward to meeting you in the future.
Wishing you every success.
16 April 97
Dear Mr McQueen,
We are writing to you in response to the Green Paper "Keeping Scotland Moving". We wish to make the following points:
1. We welcome the intention to encourage commuter services, but feel that the "commercial possibilities" are seriously limited in the new railway, where access charges to Railtrack must be paid in addition to rolling stock leasing charges. Formerly new services might have been tried with marginal costs attached. We have been pressing hard for a commuter service from Tain to Inverness. We look forward to assistance in this matter.
2. The Paper heralds declining road accident rates but makes no reference either to public transport deaths, the cost of each road fatality (c£750,000), or the disproportionate number of deaths caused by HGVs.
3. There are no references to the relative fuel economy of rail over road in moving freight.
4. The Paper states that, "most roads are free of congestion most of the time." Many main roads in the Highlands have been over engineered to the point of never having congestion. One hopes that schemes such as A96 upgrading do not follow this pattern.
5. The Paper states that " we can expect a significant increase in car ownership in the next few years." The Scottish Office's commitment to public transport is therefore apparently to have little success!
6. To encourage a modal shift in freight to rail, the awarding process for section 137 and 139 grants requires to be accelerated. Few grants have been awarded so far.
7. Road freight operators do not meet their infrastructure costs. 99% of damage on roads is attributable to HGVs. In New Zealand, road operators pay charges 5 times higher than in the UK. If true costs were met the 6% figure for railfreight would sharply rise.
The tone of the paper suggests that privatisation has brought better services. This is a bold assertion after such a short time. Apart from paint sales for new liveries, there have been very few benefits, and many drawbacks. Privatisation has caused route modernisation of the West Coast Main Line to be downgraded from BR's intended investment. New franchisees have set themselves very optimistic subsidy reductions over the franchis periods, and the total cost to the taxpayer including restructuring costs remains high.The infrastructure owner, Railtrack, has been criticised for its under-investment.
In conclusion, the Paper's "car-neutral" stance is not going to improve Scotland's transport from either an environmental or economic view. The way forward is perhaps to be found in integrated public transport, which is hinted at in the Paper, combined with an assessment of the true costs of roads.