In the next few weeks we say good bye and thank you to National Express and hello and welcome to First Group. We found National Express to be good listeners and we have to thank them especially for extending the commuter train back to start from Tain. We look forward to working with First Group and in this issue we give them plenty of ideas to work with in our policies document.
We note the demise of the Strategic Rail Authority with mixed feelings. We are particularly grateful to the Scottish Executive for stepping in with the remaining funding for Invernet which we had hoped would be coming from SRA. We are pleased that the SRA's work on community railways is to be continued and trust that the straightjacket of paring costs downwards will be relaxed so that creative forward thinking is not strangled. We hope that the provisions of the Rail Review to transfer responsibilities for track enhancements to the Scottish Executive will not be watered down and that the required legislation will be processed without delay. We may then be able to construct the additional loops and sections of double track which are so necessary for improved passenger and freight service frequencies in the Highlands but were so remote or even alien to the SRA in London.
Recently the poor timekeeping on the Far North Line has been causing havoc with passengers' journey plans and delaying connecting services. This is something that National Express and First must address as a matter of urgency. We would not like to see passengers drifting away before the Invernet services are established. The paths for these extra trains are in the timetable from this December and we still hope that the promise to introduce them by June 2005 will be fulfilled.
Our own policies have been drawn up and refined over the past two years by your committee and will keep evolving as circumstances change. As ever, we are interested to hear your views on these or on any matters to do with the line. We hope to focus on rolling stock in our next issue and your views on that subject would be welcome. The first summer excursion to Kildonan was successful and we are greatly indebted to Brian Creedy who instructed us in the art of panning for gold in the burn. We hope to have an evening talk on railway operation in the spring and also hope to see as many of you as possible at the AGM. Well maintained track is essential to all services and there have been a great many organisational changes recently, so it is particularly appropriate to have the Route Director for Network Rail, Ron McAulay, (a local man), to speak to us. We hope you will also enjoy seeing our archive of photographs of the line.