Cab Ride - Part 2
My cab ride demonstrated several of these [unthinking installations of TPWS sensors], with Invergordon (a long loop, the full length of which has to be traversed at 15 mph) being the most time-consuming. But loops aren't the only problem. There are many level crossings, all of the AOCL variety. With a AOCL there is no barrier, and warning of the train's approach is made by the train crossing a sensor. This makes the red lights start to flash, and confirmation that this has happened is given by a white light appearing to the train driver. Since the train has to stop if there is an obstruction on the road, it has to approach at a dignified pace, determined by the time the driver has to see that the crossing is clear. No responsibility is laid upon the road user other than that required of any driver. Transgress and you're likely to remain undetected and unpunished (unless you are killed). Naturally, these slowings-down add noticeably to the journey time. There is even a level crossing at Kildonan where the train actually has to stop. Is this unique on the British rail network?
Farmers also have crossings, and there is illogicality here too, with some having restrictions and others - with the same installations as far as I could see - allowing the train to go on its merry way at line-speed.
The excessively long journey time seemed to fly - honestly! - and the 3h 40m to Thurso were over all too soon. I am grateful to FSR for allowing me to ride up-front, and to hear that many of my grumbles were echoed by railwaymen. FSR, as operator, were very frustrated by the need to extend journey times by 20 minutes or so last year. The reasons for this are almost wholly outwith their responsibility, but they are the ones who get the complaints. My journey was to discover for myself - and to share with you - the truth. Improvements will come to journey times only when the track and other infrastructure are improved. We need to persuade Network Rail and its paymaster, Transport Scotland, to have a thorough look at the Far North Line. It won't happen this year (although a similar look at the Oban and Fort William line is 'under consideration", and I hope that the FNL will receive similar treatment).