Highland Rail Partnership
Elgin, 6 September 2005
The good news is the introduction of Invernet services between Inverness and Invergordon or Tain on 12 December. The timetable is to be finalised next week. The possibility of extending the early morning commuter train back to start from Lairg depends on HITRANS agreeing to underwrite any losses. The Kingussie commuter will also start that day as will four extra return services between Aberdeen and Inverurie. Invernet stations may get Invernet branding and thought is being given to an Invernet website, www.invernet.org.
Tain station has had a big facelift with new southbound shelter and disabled access provided. Frank Roach gave a presentation on this. It is likely the building will be put up for sale. HITRANS shelters are currently being installed and I understand Kildonan's is now in. ScotRail are to provide shelters at Inverness, Connel and Tyndrum Lower. It seems the Inverness one is to be pretty basic (Singer style) so I hope it will not mean even less use of the sleeper lounge. Mary Dickson's anniversary tour of the network will include the Pitlochry Station charity bookstall on 18 October and Oban on the 21st.
The public consultation on future rail services for Scotland is due to be announced in the next week or so. It will run from mid September to mid November. A baseline report should appear on the Scottish Executive website in the next ten days. This will be a vitally important planning framework to set the pattern for rail services in Scotland over the next 10-20 years. Every organisation and person interested in the future of the railways should make their views known.
HIE/HITRANS/HRP have appointed Scott Wilson Railways to study the capacity constraints of the Highland networks. Network Rail and the Scottish Executive are represented on the steering group. Hamish Baillie gave a presentation on the study "Room for growth" which is to consider each route individually and feed information in to the above Scottish Planning Assessment. He flagged up issues such as the long sections on the Kyle line and the need for RETB replacement. Network Rail has requested that Inverness-Aberdeen should be excluded from the study meantime. The final report is expected in March. Frank Roach would be the contact for further details.
Robert Samson gave a presentation on the changes to the passenger consultative system. He is now a Passenger Link Manager attached to an office in Manchester but working mostly from home. The Scottish Executive are to consult later this year on a Public Transport Users Committee for Scotland which will be much wider than just rail. To my mind it is highly disappointing that the different English agenda has thrown the system in to such turmoil at a time when the Scottish Executive is consulting on and making such important decisions for the future of the industry.
John Bird, the newly appointed EWS Business Manager for Paper and Forest Products, was introduced, having come hot foot from the Timber Transport Management Group meeting in Inverness. He is based in Doncaster and has a sales manager and an account manager working to him. He is to try and improve EWS's knowledge of markets such as paper and we emphasised the importance of (re)starting flows such as Kinbrace to Norbord and Rannoch to the south.
Frank Roach gave an update on the Forscot proposals for a wood factory at Delny near Invergordon. HIE are expecting to receive an Environmental Impact Assessment next month. Rail traffic could see the need for four train paths per day to/from Invergordon, which, depending on how much other freight runs on the line, might present a need for extra track capacity. Sadly, the Morrisons/Tesco grocery trains to Inverness seem to have virtually ceased.
The proposed upgrade of class 158s for services from Inverness seems to have stalled. Despite much ScotRail talk of "customisation" the fleet manager under the new franchise does not seem to be keen on this. The consultants appointed have seen their work implemented by South West Trains on their two units for the Bristol-Waterloo via Salisbury services which have been upgraded nearer to the higher spec of the class 159s. First ScotRail's 158s are due their C6 overhauls starting in 2006 and it seems nothing will happen until then.
The meeting was a very positive one with several improvements about to happen and the long discussions on others mostly moving forward positively. In Elgin, we might have hoped to have heard something about the long awaited improvements to the Highland and Moray sections of that line. Network Rail are having a meeting next week but we should not hold our breath that any track enhancements will happen. More positively, Frank received further support from the HRP directors for his work outlining a possible improved timetable predicated on the establishment of a train crew depot at Elgin. Iain Macdonald attended on behalf of the FoFNL committee.
In April this year HRP became a Company Limited by Guarantee, with a Board of Directors representing the Members. Previously the partnership was an unincorporated association, and liabilities, particularly in terms of its role as employer, were unclear.
Highland Councillor Charlie King is the Chairman and Provost Bob Scott from Perth and Kinross is the Vice Chairman. Other Directors are Duncan MacIntyre, Argyll and Bute Council; Donald MacNeill ,HIE; Tom Matthew HIE Moray; John Partridge, Strathspey Railway representing private railways and Richard Ardern, representing Friends' organisations. A Moray Council Director is to be nominated shortly. Company Secretary is Douglas Graham of MacLeod and MacCallum. Chris Kendall and Frank Roach are the only employees, and the Company's income is derived from Members' contributions. Graham Scott and Co are the Company's accountants.
Meetings have been rationalised to four Board Meetings and three Members' meetings per year.