Letters to The Editor
Dear Mr. Piercy,
In your editorial in the Newsletter for May you write of the decline in the membership, and invite comments about ways in which this might be reversed.
May I suggest that taking on board the view of the communities directly and indirectly served by the Line that it is of fundamental inportance to have a bridge across the Dornoch Firth would be a major boost to the relevance and worth of the Friends in their eyes, and be a strong incentive for individuals to retain membership and to join.
The need for such a bridge has been expressed by individuals, Councils and community organisations and the local media consistently over the past few years. It seems perverse for the Friends to continue to ignore this, while claiming to be a community organisation dedicated to the maintenance and development of the best possible rail services.
Isle of Bute
Dear Mr. Piercy,
I write in response to your editorial in the last Newsletter.
Most of your suppositions for falling membership I fear to be correct. The continuance of the line appears to be assured. There is a basic passenger service; indeed compared with other countries a very substantial one. In France, for example, where the TGV gets all the headlines, services to and from remote areas can be as few as one per week. The core membership of FoFNL knows that the continuance of the line is still fragile and that its use needs to be boosted.
Passenger services on rural lines are quite heavily subsidised by taxpayers' money, and correctly so. But there is a limit to the level of subsidy beyond which future Government may baulk. It is the job of a lobby group such as ours to ensure that this subsidy is best applied.
The recent newsletter concentrates almost exclusively on passenger facilities. The only refreshing variation comes in our Secretary's piece which gives us news on the latest state of goods traffic.
I do not have to hand details of the level of subsidy nor of access charges for freight traffic, but it must surely be true that every fare-paying passenger is subsidised by several times the fare paid, whilst goods trains pay the economic rate. An increasing use of the goods trains must surely be an imperative. Therein lies the assured maintenance of the line, after which FoFNL can have greater clout in suggesting more effective ways in which the passenger subsidy can be applied.
Orkney, where I live, provides a steady revenue for the line. When Northlink takes over from P&O for the Scrabster - Stromness ferry link, their schedules should be carefully examined. Let us make sure that the sailings are rail-connected so far as is possible. Competition for the private traveller is from air and the private car. In either case the deciding factor could be in terms of baggage handling. If Northlink copuld be persuaded to provide a baggage service between Thurso Station and the Stromness ferry terminal, there is the possibility of more passengers switching to rail.
Let the FoFNL committee not despair, but let it first decide if they are Friends of the Line or merely friends of the elusive, subsidised, passenger.
You asked for comments about the FoFNL. At present FoFNL appears to be almost directionless. You do not appear to have a clear set of aims, either long term or short term, not just the very generalised ones stated. Members need to know - clearly - what the FoFNL is aiming for. As objectives are achieved, and I congratulate the FoFNL for achieving many, then new campaigns need to be brought forward. If you feel that the membership are complacent, then that is no doubt encouraged by what appears to be your own attitude, or at least as depicted in the newsletter.
The FoFNL should be more involved with local communities, (Alness notwithstanding). Where are the campaigns in Brora or Helmsdale? Where is the campaign to get post buses to connect at Kinbrace? Where are the inter-station walks which are popular in other such lines? The John O'Groat Journal carries many railway stories, why do they so rarely turn to the FoFNL for comment.
Generally the newsletter is far too whimsical, too many railway jottings and not enough DOING. Get hold of a couple of copies of the magazine produced by the Heart of Wales Line Association (HOWLTA). It's well organised, has definite campaigns and has a presence in every community, and encourages local involvement.
Please get yourselves organised before it is too late.