One of the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics is that measuring something affects it. FoFNL has managed to prove this in useful style: we started to keep details of all late-running or cancelled services on the FNL at the beginning of January. Lo! these are now much fewer than they had been. Perhaps this is really down to the skill and dedication of FSR's maintenance crews in keeping tired rolling stock (jolly nice inside, mark you, but still tired underneath) going, but I have a sneaking suspicion that quantum mechanics has something to do with it too. The 158 refurbishment programme is accelerating and FSR is still expecting the full Inverness complement to be finished this summer.
I attended three rail conferences during the spring. The first, in Edinburgh, dealt with Scotland's railway and attracted a very high level of speakers including John Swinney, who gave the keynote address, and Iain Coucher. Both were very positive about the expansion of the network and about the importance of improving connectivity. I was able to have a word with each of them, and also with Ron McAulay (NR's Route Director for Scotland) about possible infrastructure enhancements. I also attended the RAIL magazine's conference in London (where Ruth Kelly had an uphill struggle to sound positive about England's railway) and the RSSB's annual Safety Conference the following day in Birmingham. This was addressed by Gwyneth Dunwoody, and it must have been one of her last such conference speeches. She was a stalwart fighter for the railways, and cut through acres of waffle as Chairman of the Transport Select Committee. It was always a pleasure to watch her in action - about the only witness who came out without scars was Iain Coucher, whom she clearly respected as being tough and honest.
Locally there continue to be improvements. Largely at FoFNL's urging the fourth train north from Inverness to Wick will now start in December - it's been a while in the planning and driver recruitment and training take time, but it's now definite. FoFNL was largely instrumental in getting the fourth train south a couple of years ago. We are now satisfied with the frequency of the long distance service if not with its speed: there is still a great deal to do in speeding things up. There is now a dazzlingly smart new indicator board at Inverness, away from the area in front of the platforms, making for better circulation. New platform screens have also been installed. We would suggest that an arrivals board in each car park (so that greeters know what is happening) would make this splendid new system even more passenger friendly.
Elsewhere in the Newsletter is a note about the station survey we're doing. It's particularly encouraging that FSR have welcomed FoFNL's initiative and are inspiring us to explore scope for such possibilities as further station adoptions and safer routes to stations. It's a welcome acknowledgement that we are the eyes and ears of the travelling public up here, and that by working together with the train operator much can be achieved. The little things mean a lot to passengers and are often overlooked in The Great Plan. I hope we can identify useful small-scale improvements for FSR, NR and the local communities.
We have a golden opportunity to contribute our thoughts to NR at the highest level at the AGM on 30 June - I'm sure members will rise to the occasion.