Some Thoughts from the Lairg Loop
Some eight years ago, I moved from Inverness to Strathkyle five miles from Culrain Station. As I am semi-retired, I am an occasional user (two or three times a month) rather than a regular user of the Far North Line. I am not a railway enthusiast in the normal sense but I have always had an interest in train journeys and train timetables. "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries." For those who advocate a rail crossing of the Dornoch Firth, this tide has come and gone or so I fervently hope. In the highly unlikely event that the Dornoch Firth crossing does get the go-ahead, I have little doubt that the Lairg Loop would close. It would probably be replaced by a bus but that also would probably fizzle out after a year or two.
When the line was originally built the then Duke of Sutherland insisted that the line went via Lairg to develop the hinterland. The hinterland still has need of the line. I cannot speak for other villages, but there are people living in Culrain who do not have their own transport and rely on the train to get to places like Tain or Inverness. There are others like myself who do have a car but, particularly in winter, prefer the ease and safety of the train.
The early-morning train from Lairg has been a godsend. It is now possible to commute to work in Inverness. It is a pity that not more people are taking advantage of it. A commute of an hour or an hour and a half is not uncommon down South. At least here, this length of commute gives the luxury of living in extremely pleasant surroundings. There are return trains from Inverness at 5 pm and 5.45 pm but the first of these trains stops short at Ardgay. One of the things on my wish list is that this earlier train should also go as far as Lairg. Perhaps some of the millions of pounds not spent on a Dornoch Firth crossing could be diverted to building a train shed at Lairg so that the 5 pm could go to Lairg in the evening, stay there overnight and then be in place as the 6.45 am the next morning. Another use of the money not spent could be to provide additional passing loops on the whole length of the line thus reducing the knock-on effects to later services of a train running late.
One of the aims of the Friends of the Far North Line, enshrined in the Constitution, is the development of services for local residents and tourists. To campaign for a Dornoch Firth crossing with the almost inevitable resultant closure of the Lairg loop would be to the detriment of the residents of Ardgay, Bonar Bridge, Culrain, Invershin, Lairg and Rogart and would also have an impact on tourists particularly those who presently use the train to get to and from Carbisdale Castle Youth Hostel.
It is sad that so many local residents never use the train. Now that timekeeping has dramatically improved, perhaps a campaign of sending a voucher for a free return rail journey on the Far North Line to each household in the catchment area of the stations on the Lairg loop would give these people a pleasant surprise and make them think about using the train in future.
Editor's note: There has been a certain amount of discussion about the use of the phrase "Lairg Loop" and your committee has decided to use the phrase "Lairg Route" in any of its references to this part of the Far North Line.