"Times - They Are A-Changing"
How times have changed on the Far North Line even since I first travelled on it, unable to afford lunch in the restaurant car which switched directions at The Mound; since the train north had a mere eight passengers including myself, maybe no lunches at all were served. Yet even by the time of my trip in the late fifties, many stations had been closed and one looked nostalgically at the already-abandoned engine shed at Tain to which the local service from Inverness had been withdrawn. Though we carried few passengers, parcels and mail business was substantial.
Newspapers were then carrying reports about the threat to everything north of Inverness, if not Perth. That the railway should have survived, and that after a long period without any freight, and with no mail and scant parcels traffic, is almost unbelievable. Incidentally, talking of mail, can anyone explain the rota of the ancient (of what pedigree) travelling post office that in mid-morning could be seen in the bay platform at Dingwall?
Every encouragement to ScotRail and to The Friends, yet everything is not right nor going to be so, at least in the foreseeable distance. Local business may be on the up, but there seem to be many fewer overseas visitors on the trains than when I conducted the Highland Railway Survey in 1993. That is because fewer Britrail passes are now being sold? In whose interest is it to sell them today? The North line may never have been fairly credited with its share of the revenue, but Americans and Italians in particular used to relish going to the extremities of the country. Some summer trains on which I questioned passengers were veritable mini United Nations, overseas travellers outnumbering British (leave alone Scottish) ones as much as two to one.
Marvellous though it is having the 158s, they are hardly ideal tourist trains. Would that somewhere along the lines someone had grasped the desirability of a proper tourist train which might have visited the North even weekly or fortnightly, maybe with individual cars sponsored by distilleries and other businesses. Can we not at least encourage the Royal Scotsman and the new Northern Belle to include the Far North on their itinerary for, with proper commentary, no route offers a better 'feel' for Scotland's unique history and wildlife.