AGM 2006 speakers
John Thurso thanked Convener Mike Lunan for the precise instructions of timing, saying that he had been given 7 minutes in which to address the audience. John told of driving back to Caithness recently when there had been long queues of traffic with a Tesco lorry at the head, probably the first one doing deliveries for the new store in Wick. There must be efforts to get road freight onto rail. He was very disappointed with Safeway grocery and Kinbrace timber freight traffic not operating by rail.
It was a busy year for the FoFNL committee with consultations and meetings with First ScotRail and Network Rail, all very constructive which pointed to a good future for FoFNL. John praised Network Rail in getting the line reopened so quickly after the recent bad weather and damage to the railway lines and thanked them for their extraordinary efforts. He welcomed the 4th service from Wick in the mornings with a connection out of the ferry from Stromness.
Mike welcomed Bill Reeve, of Transport Scotland, to the FoFNL AGM. Bill is Director for Rail Delivery and responsible for the ScotRail Franchise, the funding relationship with Network Rail in Scotland, and the delivery of a £1.5bn programme of heavy and light rail projects. Bill has had more than twenty years of rail industry experience in both passenger and freight businesses.
He opened by saying that it was a 'lovely experience travelling on the line this morning'. His first trip, after joining the rail industry, with his free rail pass was on the FNL so he is a big fan of the line! He explained that the purpose of Transport Scotland is the delivery of an unprecedented investment programme and maintaining delivery of service in an integrated approach.
Bill went on to explain the SQUIRE regime (reported in the September 2006 newsletter) and to describe the Investment Plan which includes station improvement plans (shelters and cycles spaces), class 158 refurbishment, track renewals and upgrades, RETB reliability and replacement. RETB was successful in driving down costs which kept the line open and might be replaced with ERTMS but he doubts the cost effectiveness. The Customer Information Screen at Inverness is of very poor quality and will be replaced. After the recent bad weather and track damage, Bill was encouraged by Network Rail's response to the 97 work sites of damage that needed repair and Transport Scotland was now working with Network Rail to prevent further flood damage including coastal defence works.
Frank Roach (Highland Rail Partnership) gave his now annual analysis of his work and developments during the past 12 months. The 4th train south from Wick (at 0813) would be 'skip stopping' (i.e. not booked to stop at Scotscalder, Altnabreac, Kinbrace, Kildonan, Dunrobin Castle, Invershin, Culrain, Fearn, Alness and Beauly) providing a 4 hour journey from Wick (3 hours 31 minutes from Thurso). AEA technology had produced a report studying the Sectional Running Times and the opportunities for faster journey times. These timings will be included in the 2008/09 timetable. Frank had commissioned Scott Wilson to review the current timetable and provide a recast timetable that included a new station at Conon Bridge, additional morning peak services into Inverness, review of request stops against actual booked stops, robust connections at Inverness and a Sunday service review.
The Lairg commuter continues to be funded by HRP. More money is required but is committed for the 2006/07 timetable and committed for the franchise duration to at least start from Ardgay.