I, for one, am most grateful for Iain MacDonald's article on R.E.T.B. in Issue 39. This system achieved a major reduction in staffing costs and mechanical maintenance. The principle was clear, but how it worked remained largely a mystery. Puzzling delays at intermediate stops from time to time seem to result from random difficulty in transmitting clearance. Thank you for 'lightening my darkness' appreciably. We know these things take time, but with the healthy increase in custom it is now evident the current limitations of the equipment and its operation are acting as a significant brake on further progress. As soon as maybe we need an updated system, embodying greater flexibility and capacity for modification. FoFNL is already pressing for action to move this up the agenda.
May I offer a positive suggestion? The FNL summits near Lairg and, north of Forsinard, at County march formerly had signs to mark the altitude - now blank. Could these be renewed? Indicating the height above mean sea level in feet and metres. The cost would be modest, Network rail would surely raise no objection, and I propose FoFNL offer to pay for this in support of travel interest and tourism. If we succeed in raising more than enough, the balance might be donated to re-painting the water-tank at Altnabreac, properly lined out and re-pointing the stonework. Cosmetic, but surely worth doing, and within our modest reach? Personally my preference for the signs is the adoption of the stencil-cut metal format reinstated at Corrour summit on the WHLs, but what do members think?
We all know Highland Railways are predominantly single track. When it comes to 'green concerns', however, it is puzzling that so many of the views popularly expressed are so relentlessly single track and unbalanced. There is no single cause. Nature is complex, and will always seek equilibrium-like water finding its own level. The climate is changing. It has regularly done so, but this time the rate of change seems likely to prove uncomfortably rapid.
The extent to which this may be due to human intervention is a matter for fascinating study and debate-valuable or fruitless. Ultimately, I suggest, this is irrelevant. Irresistible changes are coming over an uncertain timescale, and the fact is that we humans must learn to adapt to these, if we are to overcome the challenges with which they will bestrew our path. If we can persuade ourselves to raise our eyes from playing petty politics, we can focus upon an over-riding need to embrace our worldwide predicament. This is the only real choice we have!
Finally in upbeat mode - does the Railway sometimes relish revealing its true expertise? Remember how speedily the Culloden embankment was reinforced a few years ago? Or how rapidly the FNL breach south of Helmsdale was made good? Recently Network Rail has performed a not so minor miracle over the Lambrigg reinstatement, following the Pendolino derailment, when it masterminded a virtuoso performance of immaculate co-ordination. The ancillary works here were formidable, the site diabolical, the detail planning and execution superb. And don't overlook the unbounded kindness of local folk in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Clearly our skilled and resourceful players CAN get their act together.