At the Rail Stakeholder Conference on 16 December Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, announced he has instructed Transport Scotland to set up a Review Team to look at the Far North Line in detail and come up with a suite of actions. The team consists of Abellio ScotRail, Network Rail, HITRANS and FoFNL.
This is a major step towards achieving necessary improvements including the installation of the Lentran Loop.
The first Review Team meeting is scheduled for 25 January.
FoFNL has commissioned Tony Glazebrook of Aliona Ltd to carry out a detailed study of the Far North Line.
Tony was given full access to the line during the first week of October, including a full-length journey in the cab of a service train, the best position to see the state of the infrastructure.
Phil Verster, Managing Director of the ScotRail Alliance, ensured that Tony had full access to the railway and the operational staff. This enabled a comprehensive review of the difficulties the line has been experiencing.
FoFNL Convener Mike Lunan commented, "FoFNL has made its views known to politicians and funders for many years: this Report will allow us to be more focused and evidence-based, and we record our gratitude to its author, Tony Glazebrook."
The full report is available here.
David Spaven's new book, Highland Survivor: the story of the Far North Line was launched on 21st September. Hard to imagine that any of our readers wouldn't want to get their hands on a copy straight away, especially if they have recently read David's book, 'Waverley Route: the Battle for the Borders Railway'
Published by Kessock Books
Also available from:
The September newsletter is now in the hands of FoFNL members.
This is another 36-page edition, full of news about the current state of the Far North Line, as well as articles with a connection to railways of the area.
More than ever the importance of Far North Express as a lobbying tool is evident. We send it to many politicians and railway industry executives and managers to underline the support that exists for the line and the urgent need to do some major upgrading - the Lentran Loop is essential to allow the services to recover from breakdowns and to enable increased use of the southern part of the route. A loop at Kinbrace is also urgently needed. Politicians are soon to decide on what is to be included in Control Period 6 (CP6) and this chance must not be missed.
As always this is where I mention that if you were a member you would already have this edition of Far North Express and not be having to wait another month until it's published here. In any case, a hard copy of the magazine is always better than the online version!
Plus by joining you would be helping to strengthen our arguments even more for the work that needs to be done on the line.
We have been given permission to publish his article which eloquently expresses the current frustration with services on the Far North Line.
If you are unaware of the current situation please read the article now.
It is to be hoped that through articles such as this MSPs and others who are involved in the decision-making process about investment on the railway will realise that there is a serious problem and that they can help to address it.
We have to persuade politicians that although the Far North Line is remote from Edinburgh and Glasgow it is just as vital that it should have the necessary investment to play it's part successfully in the Far North. To this end FoFNL members have been writing to individual MSPs to bring the need for the Lentran Loop to their attention.
Here's something to do (if you have the right equipment and can use it...)
If you're interested in golf, and if you're not, you'll find Scottish Golf by Train well worth a look. It is packed with information about over 400 Scottish golf courses with all the information you need to reach them by train. Can't help thinking that someone will want to attempt the complete collection!
It is lamentable that you currently need to change onto a bus for the last five miles of your journey to the Home of Golf. Campaigners in St Andrews are working hard to rectify that.
We have put our response into a .pdf file available to read or download here.
FoFNL has been asked to lend its support to a project to restore a large house in Inverness. The house was designed by and built for Joseph Mitchell who was a civil engineer and surveyor responsible for many Highland and Far North projects, including, on the Far North Line, Tain Station and the Oykel Viaduct.
The proposal is to convert the house to flats and to include a small museum showing Joseph Mitchell's work.
Have a look at the Highland Historic Buildings Trust for full details.
We have received the following request from Anne-Mary Paterson of the HR Society:
I am starting research for a new book on the bridges and viaducts of the Highland Railway to be published by the Highland Railway Society.
I would like to include stories with a human interest rather than just presenting the bare facts. If you can help me with any anecdotes about the bridges and viaducts please contact FoFNL who will forward your details to me.
T his should really be a thought for every day for government ministers, politicians in general and commentators on railway matters:
Single track railway with passing loops = single track road with passing places (in the case of railways such as ours it is many miles between passing places - on the roads they are every few yards to avoid inconvenience).
Double track railway = single carriageway road.
Quadruple track railway (e.g. West Coast mainline out of London - rare in UK) = Dual Carriageway.
In road terms the four rail routes out of Inverness are all single track roads with passing places apart from a 30 mile stretch of "single carriageway" north of Blair Atholl.
Interesting that work has now begun on the Perth-Inverness section of the A9 to widen it to the rail equivalent of four tracks.
This is a link to an interesting news item about Danish Railways, spotted by a FoFNL member.
It's worth following the "Read More" link on that page to enjoy some "Lost in Translation" fun!
At the Scottish Cabinet meeting held in Inverness on 23rd March 2015 First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was upbeat about rail travel in comments she made as part of the launch of the new Serco sleeper service between Scotland and London.
"We have a duty to make sure that Inverness and the Highlands are well connected to the rest of Scotland, just as we need to make sure that Scotland is well connected to the rest of the UK."
She added: "We want to see people travelling by train and by public transport as much as possible but that's not a substitute for things like dualling the A9 and we have plans in place to do that. These things shouldn't be either or. If you live in the central belt you don't expect to choose between good roads and good train services, and if you live in the Highlands you shouldn't have to choose either."
Abellio's UK Rail Development Director, Mike Kean, has assured Highland MSP Rhoda Grant at a meeting on March 11th 2015 that "we will start to see improvements along the line and we can expect a dramatically improved service by the end of 2018."
Abellio took over the ScotRail franchise on April 1st 2015 and is under pressure to restore public faith in the Far North Line as soon as possible, ending a lengthy period of desperately unreliable service with a huge number of cancellations, uncompleted journeys and skipped station stops.
FoFNL will be lobbying Network Rail and Transport Scotland as well as Abellio for the serious investment that is needed so urgently.If you have any comments or require any information please contact FoFNL by E-mail
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.
Achievements 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.
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 12 UK pounds (10 for concessions).
Paul Monaghan MP
Joint Vice Presidents:
Rhoda Grant MSP
Gail Ross MSP
Malcolm George Wood
29, Ethelwulf Road
36 Learmonth Place
Bob Barnes-Watts, Inverness
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.