Frank Spaven, Membership Secretary, reported a membership of 158, with 85 lapsed members. The change in the membership renewal system had caused slight confusion. We have written to all lapsed members. Corporate Membership was discussed as there was potential for extra members. The committee is considering the introduction of a membership card. A financial statement was made and we will be renewing our affiliations to Community Rail Partnership and Railway Development Society but not to the Strathspey Railway Association, there being adequate links through individual members. The bank account is to be transferred to Muir of Ord. The next item dealt with was the Dingwall Commuter Train. This experiment has been recognised by ScotRail as 'quietly encouraging' and dates have been fixed for reviews of fares and the continuation of the service. The re-opening of Beauly Station is being investigated. The subject of free car parking in towns associated with the Line was discussed and raised the question as to how damaging would it be to the Line if towns, such as Dingwall, had car parking charges imposed. So long as rail users receive Free Parking on production of a ticket there should be no problem. Dissatisfaction was voiced about the incomplete distribution of advertising leaflets, we included a leaflet in the last issue of our Newsletter. It had been a worry that the marketing of the service was going to suffer because of the tight schedule that ScotRail had decided on at its introduction. There are still a lot of leaflets available and possibility of distributing these was to be considered. ScotRail, with the support of HIE had produced an A4 poster but again few were to be seen. Committee members had been able to gain useful publicity on radio and television with the announcement of the £3.5 million Government funding for Rural Transport Initiative.
A report was given on the February meeting of the Highland Rail Partnership. Alastair McPherson, Managing Director, ScotRail, had referred to the commuter train and to forthcoming orders for new rolling stock for central Scotland. Nigel Wunsch, Railtrack, gave details of the work being carried out in the Killiecrankie tunnel to allow 8'6" containers. Professor Thompson, English, Welsh and Scottish reported on a feasibility study on narrow gauge railborne timber extraction in otherwise inaccessible plantations in the Highlands. Jim Fry reported on the Cycle Hire facilities in Thurso, although not in the immediate vicinity of the station. John Moore agreed to investigate opportunities elsewhere. Roger Piercy mentioned the articles he had received for the Newsletter on cycle racks on trains. On freight it was understood that Rockwater were making some major pipe train movements in the near future and there was a possibility of timber extraction at Kildonan.
Next was the previously proposed rail crossing of the Dornoch Firth. It was felt that FoFNL should make it quite clear that they supported the development of the present route. The fact that the need for 7 miles of new track and the crossing of the River Fleet was rarely mentioned in discussions meant that in the real world the spending of at least £20 million was wishful thinking. Some interested parties were beginning to change their stance and therefore it was important that people knew what advice we would give.
The Highland Railway Heritage, a group initiated by Frank Roach, has been considering a draft Memorandum and Articles of Association. FoFNL as a founder member will continue to support this venture whose aims include education about the railway and promoting events including steam excursions.
Various Newsletter details were covered. The issue had appeared on the Internet, courtesy of member Ian Budd. It was agreed to include in the Newsletter a summary of the minutes to allow members to know about the workings of the committee. Advertising would be carried out in a limited way where an appropriate donation was made.
It was decided that a start should be made at attracting more publicity to FoFNLs existence. Various suggestions will be considered with a small folding leaflet to be prepared for the next meeting.
Copies of Railtrack's Strategic Proposals for Scotland were still awaited...
The next meeting will take place at the Royal Hotel, Fortrose, on Saturday 6th June. The Chairman has invited Roy Pederson to attend a future committee meeting at his convenience.
The Chairman thanked our host Jim Fry and declared the meeting closed in time to catch the train home - unlike the previous meeting where various items on the agenda had to be dealt with on the train, in the absence of the Secretary!