It's been a busy summer for the railway in the Highlands, and throughout Scotland. Scott Wilson's report "Room for Growth" (R4G) was published, along with 2 reports from Halcrow. Network Rail's Route Utilisation Study (RUS) was also published as a draft document. FoFNL has responded to R4G (see elsewhere in this Newsletter) and will be responding to the RUS before the end of the consultation period in November. The outcomes from R4G and the RUS are likely to dictate the scope of spending on Scotland's railway for the next 6 to 10 years, and it's therefore vital that we make the most of the opportunity to contribute.
Richard Ardern and I met senior managers of First ScotRail at their Inverness depot, where the Sleepers are maintained. As well as being able to see the facility and to examine the maintenance regime for the Sleepers, we took the opportunity of discussing the improvements we'd like to see when the Class 158s undergo their refurbishment next year. I'm hopeful that many of the changes FoFNL suggested will be incorporated. Some, however, are impossible. There simply isn't room underneath a 158 to install retention toilets, so we will have to put up with unhygenic and unsightly discharge onto the tracks (and worse, at Inverness station) for some time to come. FoFNL has drawn up a list of requirements for a new build of rural trains, and it will be discussed at the Association of Community Rail Partnerships conference in Darlington this month. So far it has met with support from some other Scottish Friends, and I'm hopeful that it will be picked up by others south of the Border.
There are rumours that the Scottish Executive's new Passenger Transport Users' Council is just around the corner. If the rumours are to be believed it will be a souped-up version of the Bus Users' Tribunal, itself a body with very limited powers. If so it will be yet another missed opportunity by the Executive. I cannot understand how a new(ish) government with new powers over rail can invent something as useful and far-reaching as Transport Scotland and fail to give it powers over ferries. Equally, given the recent abolition of the Rail Passengers Committee for Scotland and the strong support there was for it continue in some form, I cannot understand how a multi-modal body representing all passengers on all modes of public transport was too difficult to design. A cynic would say that They don't want You to have good solid reliable joined-up thinking in transport planning or representation. You might say that, but I couldn't possibly comment.
Closer to home, the Caithness Transport Forum's Transport Vision has now been published. It will form the transport section of the local plan for the next several years. Working with other transport providers and users was an instructive exercise, and FoFNL's views were central to the rail part of the document. I have been invited to co-operate with the Sutherland Partnership Transport Group in a similar enterprise, which I hope to report on at the AGM.