As an 'incomer' - though a regular visitor for longer, I have only lived at Kinbrace for barely 3 years - and one for whom the railway is a lifeline against the encroachments of bad weather and a senior age bracket, I was quickly impressed by FoFNL's record over a relatively short period in building sound relationships and thereby securing improvements in the service.
And it is only fair, before going any further, to add a few words of appreciation for the excellence of Far North Line operation, not only in punctual and reliable running and trolley service, plus the maintenance and cleaning input and the work by Railtrack that makes all this possible, but also, and above all, the unfailing courtesy, resilience and helpfulness of on-board staff. Within the context of ScotRail's reputation for enriching today's travel experience, our line is as good as any. FoFNL would of course like to see such improvements as reduced travel time by upgrading level crossings and even modest realignments to ease the incidence and/or severity of some speed restrictions. We would be glad to get a few more stations reopened; so perhaps this is essential if any overall gain is to be achieved over the status quo. We must be practical. Anyone with a few million pounds they are unsure how to invest might find Railtrack not wholly unappreciative - even, who knows, willing to consider rescheduling the priority of such matters!
As Secretary, I thought it might be instructive to take a look at our membership base. No surprises here, but pointers to note. It shows what you might expect: nearly 60% of members are local - of which about a quarter are 'off-line'; of the 'on-line' ones a quarter live in Inverness, while nearly a fifth presently have no immediate access to a station. Checking those with stations proved interesting: in particular, we have no current members in Fearn, Culrain, Invershin, Kildonan, Forsinard or Georgemas (none of those too surprising), only one each in Helmsdale, Brora and Golspie, and none in Invergordon. To my mind we should aim to have at least 12 members in all appreciable towns - we have 6 in Tain which heads the list (excluding Inverness) - and 3 or 4 everywhere else.
Of the other members some 8% live in adjoining parts of north-east Scotland, another 8% in other regions of Scotland, while as many as 24% are drawn from all parts of the United Kingdom, and we have a few from overseas. This wider basis of support seems to me very healthy and valuable. I would particularly encourage such members to maintain their interest, and not to feel they are too far away to play a useful rôle. If at some time we are seeking to make a point that is, say, not too welcome or appears over-ambitious, it is not surprising to be asked "Well what sort of a group are you? Who do you represent? Why should we listen to you?" It strengthens our credibility to be able to prove that we are a broadly based Society and by no means a pressure group with an obsessive and limited outlook. We should be setting out now to increase our membership substantially. And in this of course every member can help. If you are not already doing it - I know some of you are - make your membership well known, and by your good will and enthusiasm encourage others to join us. It could just be - the signs are there - that the tide is beginning to turn in favour of railway development, so let's see if we can help it to come in with a will.