Aspirations and Reality
Sadly more than 3400 people died on Britain's roads in 1999. Over the three years 1998-2000 Britain's railways suffered three major accidents at Southall, Paddington and Hatfield, which taken together killed 42 people. Each death through accident is tragic. 43 lives were lost on Highland roads in 1998 and as many again in 2000. How do we keep events in proportion?
Hatfield exposed Railtrack. Inadequate controls on or by maintenance contractors has fractured the railway industry. The sudden precautionary imposition of some 200 speed restrictions spoke for itself. Floods in parts of England compounded the scene. The subsequent loss of confidence by travellers is estimated to have cost the Operating Companies £600 million to date. Some companies reported revenue down by 40%. Although the effects are worse in the south, Scotland has not escaped. It will take time to reassure the public, grow traffic again and reduce the gap between revenue and subsidy. The last government divided the railway into more than 100 companies; the present is grappling with today's problems; the next must think big for the industry.
There is brighter news in the north:-
- the Tain Commuter loading to 83 passengers on a mid January morning
- bus connections for Dornoch commuters to and from Tain station
- Beauly station to open this autumn
Each of these events fulfils FoFNL aspirations. Each owes much to the co-operation of the rail industry, the Highland Council, the Enterprise bodies and FoFNL through the Highland Railway Partnership, and especially the drive and good offices of Frank Roach. In December the Partnership appointed Frank as its full time Railway Development Officer covering both the North and West Highlands. Congratulations to Frank in his newly expanded role. We wish him well.
The maintenance and operation of the railway is expensive. With at most 4 trains in each direction each 24 hours the North line is not used to capacity. Putting freight on rail brings benefit to the environment and to the economics of the line. Building business builds the future.