A factor too easily overlooked these days is the social impact of railways when first constructed, particularly among remote rural communities. At a time when transport was limited to horseback, horse cart and pony and trap over unmetalled roads in uncertain condition in all weathers, the new mode was a step change. At the same time the railways were often the major employers in country places; acquiring useful specialised skills, their staff commonly stayed with the company for life; their children were a notable contingent in local schools.
Nowadays, in the pursuit of higher technology and cost-cutting, railway staff comprise minimal footplate crews, largely mechanised permanent way gangs, centralised maintenance and control, and a few booking clerks. It is very safe, keeps costs pruned to the bone, and is called progress.
Youngsters paying weekend visits to the Far North (indeed people of all ages) are discouraged from using rail by the absence of any means of returning for much of the year. The useful, and on the whole well-used, Sunday services in high summer are relegated to a sadly short period. Otherwise nothing. We shall continue to press ScotRail for the provision of at least one late afternoon/ early evening service on Sundays throughout the year.
Maybe Friends should institute a questionnaire to ascertain the level of likely demand, with a view to enabling ScotRail to justify the trial of such a service for an experimental season.
Of course another answer would be to introduce interavailability of weekend ticketing between ScotRail and City Link. In the computer age, no problem in apportioning income - and aren't ScotRail part of National Express, who have some expertise in coach services?!
Mention of which 'rattles another chain'. Bus services along the more populous Cromarty Firth and Moray Firth are no doubt a good deal more frequent than those, usually by minibus, that exist in the remoter and far more sparsely populated western and northern areas. In both areas is enough being done to integrate these for the greater convenience of customers? In particular can more be done to encourage those serving towns having a railway station to actually call there at times related to the better used ScotRail services? (Indeed the less popular ones too, to ensure greater even-ness of uptake.) We know these things take time, but would like to see positive progress being made in this direction. If some is being made, and we have overlooked it, please tell us!
We try to give Railtrack positive support in their huge and, some might well feel, unenviable task. But at times they do disappoint us. Wick and Thurso now look very smart, Helmsdale is externally painted but rotten within (the Property Company should know that unused buildings are a wasting asset and a liability) but only one platform at Muir of Ord was deemed to justify bringing up to a proper height. What sort of image do they want?