Northern Rail Future
The news from Network Rail is not encouraging. In June they estimated a need for £29.5 billion from government through the Strategic Rail Authority over the next five years, to operate and maintain the system. By September under pressure from the Rail Regulator they had trimmed their requirement to £24.6 billion with which to catch up on the inherited maintenance backlog and maintain the system to agreed standards but with a two year delay on less important maintenance. The SRA had suggested that selected lines working to capacity receive some investment to relieve key intense bottlenecks, lines with substantial traffic be maintained to the present standard, while lines with more limited traffic flows would not be renewed to existing standards. In the Highlands only Inverness - Perth comes in to the second category.
There are implications for the speed of both passenger and freight trains in the Highlands. At present the Scottish Executive substantially determines the passenger rail franchise in Scotland but has no control over infrastructure provision on existing routes. On another page Richard Ardern gives a graphic account of proceedings at the most recent meeting of the Rail Passengers Committee - the passengers watchdog. It is the Rail Regulator who provides paths for freight trains.
The Environment should be of overriding importance to central government if future generations are to enjoy anything like the health and lifestyle of ourselves. Here the Far North Line can proudly proclaim its contribution by taking many thousands of long distance lorry journeys off the road each year. Nine years ago there was no freight on the route; today the line carries upwards of 3000 loaded freight wagons per annum. This line should be maintained to at least existing standards. It is for government to protect the future.