"A Better Railway for The North"
The recent publication of the report "A better railway for the North" by Corus Railway Infrastructure Services has caused the public airing of strong views about the apparent inactivity of your committee in supporting the needs of those living in the north.
The lobby group in favour of the Dornoch Link have decided that FoFNL should have been campaigning very strongly and enthusiastically in support of this report but because the majority of your committee do not share their enthusiasm they are disappointed in our approach.
Our Policy Document published in Issue 32, September 2004 stated under "Infrastructure Improvements" "Investigate in conjunction with the Scottish Executive and local authorities the socio-economic benefits and cost effectiveness of constructing a Dornoch Link", and "Construct a curve at Georgemas taking trains between Thurso and the south to avoid trains having to reverse". In my opinion the Corus Report does not present anything to indicate the socio-economic benefits and the cost effectiveness of constructing the Dornoch Link, and the upgrading of the entire line to allow a line speed of 90 mph.
We invited our critics to present their case and explain why the report was so significant as to warrant a more enthusiastic response from your committee but the response was "...everything members need to know is contained in the report which has been carried out by people of undoubted experience far better qualified to do so than either myself or you or any of our members." We were then told to distribute a copy to all members immediately. We had considered this option but should anyone wish to read the 37 page report it can be found on the following website www.caithness.org/railway.
We have tried to encourage debate by publishing calculations that show the previous claims for 45 minute savings due to the Dornoch Link were achievable and each time we haven't succeeded and not once have our critics told us why our calculations are wrong (Issues 20 and 22)
The report gives no indication of who commissioned it and who will pay for it. The impression I am left with is that it is basically a selling document inviting people to find the necessary finance to pay Corus to produce the feasibility study that they recommend should take place and which is what we have been asking for and for which we are still waiting.
The main thrust of the report is that a 2 hour journey between Thurso and Inverness is possible and, in their opinion, this will be achieved by building a direct route from Golspie to Tain, the building of the Georgemas Curve, the re-opening of Halkirk Station and the upgrading of the line to enable 90 mph running.
Until we see the results of a feasibility study which shows the cost of each improvement to the Line and the benefit it will bring to the Communities and the Railway Industry then we feel that we would be raising the expectations of the Far North Communities unnecessarily by adopting a more pro-active approach, which could then lead to disappointments.
As the pro-Dornoch Link spokesman pointed out, I am not a railway expert only a former School Master. However, I have been involved in engineering, management consultancy and the teaching of physics, mathematics and computing and prefer to see some facts and figures that I can play around with that show me how suggestions stack up to being realistic. So although I have been put well and truly in my place I offer my own personal attempt to work out if it is possible to get to from Thurso to Inverness in 2 hours, and please feel free to write and correct any mistakes/wrong assumptions.
Assuming the new journey distance will be 136 miles, the train requires to achieve an end to end average speed of 68 mph which I find difficult to judge as being realistic, so I'll try another approach.
A speed of 90 mph has been suggested and if the train ran at a constant 90 mph for the whole journey it would take 91 minutes end to end, so we are left with 29 minutes for decelerating, waiting and accelerating at stations. Let us take the suggested case of the express option of stopping at the 7 stations from Thurso to Tain and then running non-stop through to Inverness. We have to allow for 8 accelerations and 8 decelerations and 7 stops at stations. I will assume 1 minute for the stop in the station and 3 minutes for the deceleration and acceleration giving a total of 31 minutes for this aspect of the journey and therefore, by my very crude calculations I have a total journey time of 122 minutes, or 2 minutes over the anticipated 2 hours.
But, pragmatism starts to creep in and lots of 'What ifs" begin to occur to me. What if it isn't possible to timetable the train travelling in the opposite direction to arrive at a crossing loop at exactly the timetabled time? What if the extra freight trains that are hoped for, given the improvements in the line, don't maintain their timetable? What if the signalling system is not improved; the current system leaves a great deal to be desired and often causes lengthy delays whilst drivers search for a radio signal? What if it proves impossible or inordinately expensive to upgrade certain parts of the Line to 90 mph running? For example, approaching Inverness from the north we might be able to get to the Clachnaharry road over-bridge at 90 mph but what will the engineers do with the canal swing bridge? I have shown that, by my crude calculations that there can be no allowance for trains to travel slower than 90 mph. What if people want to make use of the request stops; will the driver have time to stop once he has seen the person on the platform who wishes to board and how does he make up time if the 'conductor' informs the driver that a passenger wishes to alight at a request stop. Of course, we could always close the request stop stations but a previous hint of a suggestion that closing Invershin would be beneficial, given the new footbridge and illuminated footpath between Culrain and Invershin, caused some very heated exchanges from the Invershin locals, so I would be interested to see how any proposed closures would be handled.
It has been pointed out to us that we are being negative in assuming that the costs involved are inappropriate in these days of cash strapped authorities and that the cost of all these improvements can easily be found especially as the proposed Waverly Line improvements have attracted a very high price tag and have been given support. I would suggest that the improvement cost per new passenger attracted to the Waverly improvements make it worth pursuing. Will the same apply to our Line?