Renewed Growth of Rail Travel
Amid the widespread disruption that ensued post-Hatfield some commentators cheerfully predicted it would take the railways years to recover their lost traffic, let alone resume its upward trend. There are still a good many speed restrictions, so that punctuality has yet to get fully back on target - average long distance journey delay 10 minutes - but Railtrack are getting there (it is all aimed at ensuring we can travel more safely than by any other means), and it is reported that in April the railway network carried some 1.6 million more passengers than in the same month last year. On our line passenger loadings vary widely, with no very obvious pattern. As one would expect, by and large the southern section is better used, though at times the Wick and Thurso contingents are fairly healthy. It takes only one or two sizeable booked parties to make the train pretty full, and in summer we feel a case exists for operating two units on at least some services.
The Freight Dimension
Understandably most of us only think of the railway in terms of passenger services. While the train is widely perceived as relatively costly, and may well seem so if travelling as a family, ScotRail offer some attractive bargain fares, and in fact the service requires considerable subsidy to meet its actual running cost.
The most vital factor in the Far North Line equation is the development of regular freight traffic.
The pipe train, running when required, is certainly impressive, and now the daily Safeway train is a most welcome feature. The one (to me, at any rate) sad aspect of the Safeway working is its too frequent resemblance to a toy train! - that powerful class 66 diesel hauling a mere 2 or 3 containers. However, there may be fully refrigerated vans on the way that might augment it, while a few times recently 5 covered vans have also been attached. In fairness, we know it takes time and diplomacy to negotiate wider transfer from road to rail. Meanwhile the A9 still carries too many long distance goods that might be consigned to rail.
Highland Deephaven Terminal, Evanton
A proposal to serve this by rail has encountered some objections from local residents. We venture to suggest their fears may be overstated: this will be a pretty low key operation, modern wagons are close-coupled, and discreet banking and planting could readily muffle sight and sound. (Editor's note. There were 162 representations against the proposal and 1 in support (from FoFNL). The most common reference in the objections was to the effect that the development would have on house prices adjacent to the main line. The applicants have been asked to provide more details on a number of matters after various technical consultations had taken place. I still find it disappointing that some one should have been allowed to design and build a rail access under the 'new' A9 by-pass that is now proving impossible to use.)
Timber loading at Kinbrace
Work has started on strengthening the road bridge over the local burn. Once the B871 is upgraded, the loading platform can be constructed. Yet, for a long term operation and to permit daytime loading, a passing loop would be so much better. Of course there's no money. Where's the vision?