The last few months have seen more bad news than good for the Far North Line. Invernet is deferred until December 2005, the Safeway freight train has not been running, and the passenger trains have had a serious punctuality problem such that their schedules are likely to be lengthened by more than ten minutes from end to end. Thankfully, there is some good news. First ScotRail have reduced the prices of Apex returns from the line to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Nationally, the Scottish Executive's first annual budget for its new rail infrastructure responsibilities has been set at some £330M. This is for Network Rail's work on tracks and signalling in Scotland. It includes a figure of £17M annually for so called "enhancements" such as new tracks or stations. There is apparently no enhancement money at all in England just now and the Scottish Executive will have to find other monies to continue to make an impact on its long list of desirable schemes. The Georgemas Curve is not yet on that list and with the Inverness-Aberdeen scheme not yet finding favour, we are currently looking at an enhancement famine in the Highlands despite the Inner Moray Firth being probably the fastest growing city region in Scotland. We still seem to be thought of as a "remoter rural" area in some circles down south!
This issue of the newsletter has a rolling stock theme. Privatisation and, before that, under-investment have created a rolling stock market that is grossly overpriced and still short in numbers of vehicles both for passenger and for freight needs. New timber wagons and new passenger coaches "fit for purpose" are needed now. Wishes don't come true that quickly on the railway, so we have to be getting the design work done soon in the hope that the trains might be financed and built in the next four or five years.
First ScotRail have heeded our requests for litter bins and more timetables on display. They have pleasantly surprised us with the Apex fares cut. The new timetable in December brought some better rolling stock south of Inverness but mixed news on timings. Two minutes added to the 12.45 from Inverness has destroyed the connection at Edinburgh into the 16.10 Virgin train to Bristol via York. Why? Our passengers on the 17.35 to Wick should now be finding a "fresher" train environment than before when the unit worked through from Edinburgh. All businesses find feedback from customers helpful, so do make use of the Meet the Manager sessions being held every month or so and make a note of the Rail Passengers Committee's public meeting in Dingwall on 23 May which is a very good opportunity to question those at the very top.