2002 - A Good Year For The Far North Line
At the request of the committee and with the agreement of the AGM I have agreed to continue as Chairman for a further year. I am pleased to welcome John Duncan as Honorary Secretary who follows on the work of Keith Tyler who continues on the committee. At the Group's Annual General Meeting at Beauly on 16th November I spoke of the success of the Beauly Station and the good level of usage of the weekend Sunday trains, both by people returning from a weekend away and Thurso College students. More people are using the trains.
Freight traffic growth is encouraging. A weekly oil train runs from Grangemouth to Lairg. Timber trains from Kinbrace are loading up to 21 wagons. A new freight terminal is in use at Thurso. More goods are leaving Caithness by rail. All achieved in 2002.
Achievements in 2002 had been backed by many years of work. FoFNL had long campaigned for passenger train improvements. A particular debt is owed to our former Secretary, Frank Roach now Highland Rail Development Officer for his activity.
Dreamings of a new railway are unhelpful to Caithness and Sutherland. Railways are a huge call on the taxpayer. Their justification has to be their usage. FoFNL has achieved much by lobbying, by reasoned advocacy in the Highland Rail Partnership, but much more remains to be done.
Across the world the longer distance rural railway survives on its freight income. Passenger traffic on such lines is the icing on the cake. Rail attracts freight off the road. Rail is environmentally friendly.
One long term aim of FoFNL is to achieve a 2 hourly interval service from Tain to Inverness. This has moved forward with the announcement by the Scottish Executive of funds to support the Highland Council contribution. I anticipate the Strategic Rail Authority will now follow. Success in getting this scheme off the ground places responsibilities on others - the Council to develop bus connections from the Easter Ross Seaboard villages to Fearn Station - the local Community Councils to enthuse usage of the trains, and - the Friends of the Far North Line to develop a bigger supporting marketing thrust. The service should commence in 2004.
Longer term objectives of FoFNL include a chord to the west of Georgemas and improvements at crossings both aimed at saving journey time, new stations for the growing catchment area of Conon/Maryburgh and at Halkirk together with the closure of Invershin as well as the introduction of 170 trains.
The funding of 22 new trains for Scotland is very welcome. For too long, long distance passengers with luggage have had to endure the sardine-tin like conditions on the busier 158 services. Comfort should be at premium on longer journeys.
I would like to thank the retiring committee members and office bearers for their support throughout the year.