16 March 1995
Passenger Survey carried out on 15 March on the threatened Far North Line services. Scotrail plan to delete the 1532 Inverness to Tain and return, and to retime the 1800 northbound to 1645 thus affecting journeys from work and connections with trains from Central Belt.
Friends of the Far North Line are sending a representative to the Rail Users Consultative Committee meeting in Perth on March 17. Far North Line services and the proposed Georgemas Curve will be discussed. New Scotrail director John Ellis will be making his first appearance on Scotrail business. Friends are also delighted that Dingwall station has been nominated Best Kept Station in the North of Scotland.
25 April 1995
42% travel from beyond the line
In a survey of 245 people travelling on the threatened 1532 and 1800 services from Inverness 42% were found to have travelled from beyond Inverness. 19% had travelled
from England. These journeys would will be seriously affected by the
connections offered by the new timetable changes. The 29% of people travelling
to/fro work will have to rethink their travel plans. Easter Ross commuters are being
shunted into a siding.
The Friends met Donald Macpherson, Scotrail Manager for the Highlands, today and presented him with their findings. They appealed for the projected 1645 service to be retimed to 1735.
Far North Freight
The Friends congratulate TransRail in their latest venture- taking coal and steel to Wick and Thurso, traffic lost in 1982. Railfreight is competitive and environmentally less damaging. It will help to secure the line's future. Caithness and Sutherland businesses must join in this initiative.
More good news will be spread at the FOFNL Conference 'The Future of the Far North Line' on 26 October . TransRail's managing director Julian Worth will be speaking, as well as MPs Robert Maclennan, Brian Wilson, Charles Kennedy, John Ellis (ScotRail), Paul Prescott (RailTrack)and Duncan McPherson (Convenor HRC). The venue is The Station Hotel Inverness.
This trial freight train departs Inverness on Friday 29 September at 1550, in the presence of Robert Maclennan and Duncan McPherson, carrying 230 tonnes of coal for British Fuels and steel for Norfrost. Scrap will be conveyed back to Inverness on Saturday 30 September.
10 October 1995
THE TRAIN TAKES THE STRAIN TO THE MOD
Friday 13 October will not be unlucky for passengers on the 1715 from Inverness to Wick. Sutherland trio Na Gaisgich - The Heroes- will be playing traditional music on the train all the way to Golspie. John MacDonald, Alistair MacRae and Dave Goulder will be recalling some of your favourite tracks. This event is organised by The Friends of the Far North Line with the generous support of ScotRail.
26 October 1995
THE FUTURE OF THE FAR NORTH LINE
Conference at the Station Hotel Inverness 26 October 1995 10.30-4.30
Major developments concerning the Far North Line will be announced at
Thursday's conference. 95 delegates so far confirmed. This is a local event
with a national significance.
"We are extremely pleased to have been able to attract such high profile speakers. Local enterprise companies and the local authority must work with the rail industry to develop sevices for the local resident, tourist and freight operator. The conference is the forum for this partnership to begin", said Frank Roach, Secretary of The Friends of the Far North Line.
- 1015 Coffee and Registration
- 1045 Welcome from Harry Miller Chairman FOFNL
Session One-Chair Frank Roach FOFNL
- 1050 John Watt Highlands and Islands Enterprise
- 1105 Brian Wilson MP
- 1125 Questions to the speakers
Session Two - Chair Jackie McGuinnity
- 1135 John Ellis Director Scotrail
- 1155 Duncan McPherson Convenor
- 1210 Robert Maclennan MP President FOFNL
- 1220 Questions to the speakers
- 1235 Lunch
Session Three-Chair David Richard-Jones HRC Dev Off Caithness
- 1315 Julian Worth Director Transrail
- 1335 David Hughes Ledmore Marble Co
- 1340 Questions to the speakers
- 1350 Paul Prescott Director Railtrack Scotland
- 1410 Charles Kennedy MP
- 1430 Questions to the speakers
- 1440 Tea
Session Four - Chair Margaret Paterson HRC
- 1505 Paul Salveson TR&IN
- 1525 Andrew Seedhouse Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership
- 1540 Questions to the speakers
Session Five - Chair John Melling FOFNL
- 1545 Any Questions- submitted in writing during the day. The panel will be John Ellis, Charles Kennedy, Julian Worth, Duncan McPherson
- 1615 Frank Roach FOFNL
- 1630 Conference ends
At Mid Fearn in Rosshire, between Ardgay and Tain stations there is a crossing for which trains have to slow to 10 mph. It is equipped with phones which should be used to contact the signalman in Inverness if the crossing is to be used. The phones have been covered by binliners for 18 months as they have yet to be connected. Why?
"Railtrack should use some of the £178 million they receive from Scotrail to both ensure safety and to allow trains to pass at full speed. That's why the Far North Line is slow. Cows take preference", said Frank Roach FOFNL Secretary.
Freight Grants Friends' President Robert Maclennan MP last week asked in parliamant how many Track Access Grants had been awarded in the UK since their inception. Minister John Watt's reply was brief - just one!
These grants will cover the Railtrack Access Charges for new freight workings, such as Transrail's innovative service on the Far North Line, and is worth £1 per mile per lorry taken off rural A roads. A Thurso-Inverness train carrying 30 lorry loads would attract a grant of £3600 - when the Department of Transport finally decides to get around to it. Railfreight carries just 5% of all UK freight, a woeful figure by European standards.
17th December 1995
Rail Bridge Damaged, Freight in Jeopardy
The rail bridge at Kildary, Ross-Shire was struck last night by a digger being transported on the back of a lorry operated by Ronaldson's of Wick. The deck of the bridge was moved two feet, buckling the rail. Passengers were bussed between Tain and Invergordon, and a Transrail freight train carrying Caithness flagstone for Belfast - the first freight over the Stranraer line for 18 months - timber , scrap and goods for Norfrost is now marooned at Tain.
"This is of particular concern as the fortnightly freight service has fought against all the odds to get off the ground, and is conveying a trial consignment of flagstone which must be delivered before Christmas, and a test run of timber for Elgin, the first timber on the line for fifteen years,"said Frank Roach, secretary of The Friends of The Far North Line. It comes on the back of the Region's Roads and Transport Department's officers' recommendation not to contribute to the Far North Line Development Partnership's bid infrastructure study of the line, overturned by councillors, and just two days before the Safety Day at Inverness Station.
A Railtrack spokeswoman said that there was a working party looking at bridge strikes across the country, and was working with the Road Haulage Association to educate drivers. She also said," We have in place a system for the recovery of costs. We will pursue for full costs of recovery and the restoration of the bridge."
Allan Dick, Railtrack Duty Officer, said that after a site meeting at 12.00 he hoped to get lifting gear in place today, in order to lift the bridge, reposition it and realign trackwork tomorrow.
Under the new railway structure Railtrack will be liable to pay compensation to Scotrail and
David Richard-Jones HRC Development Officer for Caithness said, "This unfortunate incident reinforces the arguments in favour of rail freight that we have been making for so long. 20 lorry loads of flagstone have been delayed by an accident involving just one HGV. The potential damage that goods vehicles can cause on our fragile northern road infrastructure could be considerably reduced by the reintroduction of regular freight trains to the north and West of Inverness."
John Holwell of Transrail said " Transrail is doing all it can to look after our valued customers. Ironically it illustrates some of the dangers of road transport.
27 January 1996
MARBLE TO ITALY- BY RAIL
Today, in a classic "Coals to Newcastle" story, Sutherland marble from the Ledmore Quarry was sent by rail from Lairg in the Highlands of Scotland to Carrara, near Pisa, the home of Italian marble and one time supplier to Michelangelo. This represents the longest journey to date for UK freight to the Channel Tunnel.
The departure of the train, the first of five trial runs, was witnessed by officials and elected representatives of Sutherland District Council and Ledmore Marble Managing Director David Hughes.The Friends of The Far North Line, who lobbied Highland Regional Council to allow lorries to transport the 17 blocks of stone on minor roads, flagged away the train with a toast of Italian sparkling wine. While rail freight nationally is down 16%, the Far North Line is fighting back. This unusual load represents the sixth freight train since services recommenced last autumn.
John Holwell, Transrail Business Manager, said, "This exciting traffic development indicates the versatility of rail freight".
Transrail have introduced a new service, the Enterprise Service, which caters for less than whole trainloads. Randy Henke, Vice President of the purchaser of the three BR freight companies, Wisconsin Central, said in an exclusive interview with the Friends of the Far North Line, " This is exactly the kind of business that is perfectly tailored for railroad use. The Enterprise Service is where we see the future, and we would like to expand it."
Frank Roach, Secretary of the Friends, described it as a clear demonstration of the environmental as well as the economic benefits of rail haulage. "It is a great boost for the Far North Line."
Friends' President Robert Maclennan MP said ''Carriage of the marble along the Lairg Loop is a significant development for rail business. We hope it will be the first of many loads of stone and timber to be moved on the line. It is a welcome step in the effort to shift heavy loads from road to rail."
Other potential traffic from Lairg includes timber, potash for the Ukraine and the Falklands and, of course, the BP oil terminal which is already rail served.
Friends of Far North Line Support Police Speeding Initiative
- Friends donate towards radar gun
- Praise for police war on speeding
As the government produces a White Paper on Transport, the solution can be found in the Far North.
Rail Freight is coming back. Norfrost's Pat Grant wants a daily goods train, and development agencies are bidding for European Objective One funding for new sidings and facilities. 9000 tonnes of timber are expected to move soon. Sutherland Area Committee are considering sending waste by train.
"Both current government and Labour policy is committed to increasing rail usage. The new American owners of UK rail freight want to re-open depots and sidings. But the huge disparity between road and rail funding must be reversed. Road haulage appears to be cheap because the taxpayer subsidises it. And when did you last see an HGV travelling at 40 mph on the A9? Or a coach at 50 mph? " said Frank Roach, secretary of FOFNL.
Key Week For Far North Line
This week sees three major developments on the line, all of which were announced at the friends' Inverness conference last October.
- The longest train ever in the Highlands carrying pipes for the oil industry reaches Caithness on Wednesday.
- On the same day the findings of the £40000 Infrastructure Study will be reported to the Highland Rail Network Partnership.
- The Highland Council will be asked to contribute towards the cost of the Tain Commuter Service.
Of the three outcomes the most spectacular is the 1409 foot long train carrying pipes for the oil industry.
Friends' President, Caithness and Sutherland MP Robert Maclennan said " This contract is very good news for the area. The carriage of pipes on a regular freight service every week - on some occasions two trains per week - over a six month period can only strengthen the future security of the Far North Line and help maintain passenger services for both the local and tourist sector. Rockwater, Railtrack and English Welsh and Scottish Railways are to be commended for their effort in securing the transfer of these loads from road to rail. Domestic car users along the route will greatly welcome this development. EWS have shown that no contract is too big or too difficult to capture and no load too big or too difficult to deliver. They will have our support in seeking to lift more heavy loads from our roads."
Friends' Secretary Frank Roach said, "The railfreight revival in the Far North as showing the way for the rest of the country. Transrail and now EWS are to be congratulated for thier achievements."
On Wednesday Consultants Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick present the findings of the Infrastructure Study. It is expected to include low cost to medium cost options for upgrading the line, and significantly reducing journey times, through improvements to crossings and increasing speeds through loops. Also this week the Highland Council are to be asked to contribute towards the cost of the Tain Commuter service. Friends' Secretary Frank Roach explains, "I understand that because Scotrail cannot undertake any liabilities that would have to be borne by whoever wins the franchise, the Tain Commuter Sevice, which could lose an estimated £30000 per year, cannot be authorised by the British Railways Board unless a third party agrees to underwrite the loss. HIE are unable to offer revenue support, so everything depends on the Highland Council. I am bitterly disappointed that it will not be running in September, and appeal to the Council to move some funds away from the Roads Budget."
Rail Journeys Get Longer
The Friends of The Far North Line welcome the recent study into decreasing journey times on the line produced for the Highland Rail Partnership, but are shocked to discover that journey times are getting longer!!
While end to end times to Wick remain the same, intermediate journeys are longer. The trains north from Inverness arrives in Helmsdale a full 5 minutes later in the new winter timetable due to begin on Sunday. Somehow northbound trains now take an extra minute or two between various stations, perhaps to allow sheep to get a better view or to allow stags time to get across the crossings.
Secretary Frank Roach said, "This is not the timetable alteration we were expecting, and could possibly be connected to the performance regime which dictates that Railtrack compensate Scotrail in the event of delays caused by Railtrack's infrastructure!" 'Charter minutes' are being added on all over the country so that operators will have fewer claims to face if their services fail to arrive on time. The timetable is simply extended.
12 April 1997
Funding Misses Train
In the week of the major Rail Freight conference in Inverness the Friends of the Far North Line are asking the question, " Just how committed to railways are the statutory bodies in the Highlands?"
Despite numerous reports, both national and local, on the need to increase rail usage, what has been achieved so far? 91% of Objective One money earmarked for transport has already been spent. How much on rail? None.
David Richard-Jones, Economic Development Manager for Caithness said, "It is a pity that the project will be delayed because the application date was put back to September. We were ready to lodge a multi-million pound application for a rail terminal at Georgemas for Norfrost and facilities at Dalcross for Norboard." Pat Grant, Managing Director of Norfost and now a Vice President of the Friends of the Far North Line, the key player in the freight revival in the Highlands, is kept waiting by bureaucracy.
Friends hope that the Highland Council will prioritise rail investment over A9 road improvements on the Caithness-Sutherland border.
And what of Tourism, our main industry? The Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership is to receive £735,000 under the Objective 5b Programme for tourism promotion, station enhancement and for funding 6 development officers. How much money has been raised by the Highland Partnership so far? None.
Frank Roach, Secretary of FOFNL said, "How is it that we in the Highlands are left standing on the platform as the funding train passes through?"