Global Warming is an inescapable fact. The extent to which it is a purely natural phenomenon - life on earth has always been liable to adjustments out of balance - or to what degree it is inflamed by our human activities, is debatable. The fact is, it is happening and, like it or not, we and future generations have got to come to terms with it and its inevitable consequences. What seems clear is that we can influence its speed of development if we learn to moderate some of our grosser activities.
Smokeless zones and the decline of heavy industry had already done much to improve air quality in larger cities, reducing the pall of smog that used to inflict us, and those awful pea-soup fogs that had once made winters so miserable at times. So we cheerfully went over to lead-free petrol and more economical cars with cleaner characteristics. (Sadly not much use as it turned out, since the increased number of vehicles each year more than offset the gain per car.) And then, since power stations and chemical plants were held responsible for major harmful emissions, we readily agreed they must clean their exhaust gases; this would really make a difference - though I rather think we somehow imagined all this could be done invisibly at nil cost. Significant improvements have indeed been made.
Now we come to transport. There is much advocacy of consigning long distance freight from heavy lorries to the railway. Much might be done, if the capacity is there and the price is right. With incentives, the latter might be less insuperable, as indeed it has proved to a fair extent. We are being urged to forsake our cars, wherever practicable (which in our area is inevitably not too realistic, but we should take the wider picture,) and use public transport. Now rail travel is widely perceived as expensive. Not nearly as much so if you take into account all the add-on costs of maintenance, insurance, accidents, medical treatment and environmental damage - but, yes, if you are travelling as a family then it is often a pretty expensive exercise for long journeys. But this is the nub. Is it that we will only go by rail, do the "green" thing, play our rightful part in alleviating damage to the planet, if it costs less? Which comes first? Safeguarding the future for our children and future generations, or simply focussing on the immediate bottom line? It seems the god of mammon is alive and thriving. Some of us, through no fault of our own, have little choice it is true, and consequently deserve compassion. But many of us have the means to encompass a broader vision - and I suggest we would do well to reflect on this.
Come On - Give Rail A Try
If you are travelling as a family, laden with luggage or shopping, you may well choose the car. Many of us have no choice.
But if you are going alone, or with say one or two children, why not occasionally make an exception and give them the opportunity to sample railway travel? Just once in a while, say, or as a treat. It can be a novel and exciting experience for youngsters (of all ages!) and you can get home feeling, more relaxed by leaving the driving to someone else. Give it a try!
We need to use our rail service, or we'll risk losing it. And then we'll never know how much quicker our journey to or from the Far North might have been if it had lasted until the Dornoch cut-off could have been realistically built in response to demand!
And, by no means least, here's hoping that National Express resoundingly succeeds in retaining the ScotRail franchise when the next term is negotiated. They do us supremely well.
Station Hotel, Muir of Ord.
We are somewhat dismayed to learn that this business has changed hands and the building's' use may be altered. We wish the departing and new owners every success, while sincerely regretting that this very convenient venue may no longer be available to us.
Your committee has been made very welcome here on three occasions in the last two years, the latest on 20 May.
Concessionary Fares for Local Residents
It is excellent news that ScotRail are retaining the 50% fares reduction offer. This was warmly welcomed when introduced, and has plainly brought rail travel within the reach of many more people.
When we heard that this very substantial concession was likely to be reassessed we pressed ScotRail to maintain it. The initial response was that our view would be taken into account when the time came to consider all aspects of the matter. While we certainly lay no claim to be solely responsible this outcome is most reassuring. We know the reduced rate has attracted new customers and it richly deserves wider support.
We congratulate Railtrack
When the embankment south of Culloden Viaduct was severely weakened following heavy rainfall, services to Inverness from the south were curtailed at Aviemore, freight had to be diverted and our line's newly introduced daily Safeway service had to be suspended.
It might have been far worse. The driver of an earlier 158 unit, alert to the imperfections in the track, promptly notified control and the line was closed shortly before the "Highland Chieftain" IC125 through service from Kings Cross was due.
That it has been reinstated so swiftly is entirely due to the commendable speed with which Railtrack and its contractors tackled the substantial work of repair and reinforcement to the formation: "earthwork" is the usual technical term, but in fact it consists very largely - in both senses of the word - of stonework! Well done indeed - and finished two days ahead of schedule.