Memo to the Committee, Friends of the Far North Line
In issue 48 of our newsletter, Sept 09, I read with interest the article by Mike Lunan. I accept this is Mike's own view, and is an interesting one. I have been mulling over a suitable response to the committee since then. Now Mike is a very knowledgeable person on railway affairs and did an astounding amount of good work in his years as convener. Personally our family have benefited, as many will have, from the extra train each way from Wick to Inverness and the ability to carry more than two cycles on any one service.
However, I am not certain if this "railbus" or related "people mover" is really likely to be of benefit to local Wick rail users. I say this as a fairly regular user of the north lines in late eighties/early nineties when the so-called "Wick shuttle" was deployed, experiencing both loco hauled rolling stock and the 156 Sprinters when they were brought north. I well remember icy platforms at Georgemas in the morning and cold waits while the shuttle stock was brought to the platform in the evenings. Sometimes I was the only passenger! Things have moved on since then and the new arrangement of a visit to Thurso does make a longer journey for Wick passengers, but does have advantages.
Many of the passengers using the services south from Wick are elderly or families, both often with luggage. The last thing we would wish for is to have to get out onto a platform and transfer to another train, either waiting or arriving shortly, just 20 minutes into the journey. This would be step backwards to the present arrangements.
The present arrangement also allows commuting morning and evening, especially now the extra services are there. This could be publicised more as once again, living in Wick and working in Thurso I use the service at times, and there are not many regular users. Mike's idea of a railbus paralleling the Stagecoach 82 service on the Wick Thurso run seems an expensive one in terms of driver hours and fuel use as against potential revenue.
The only advantage I can see to a "people mover" is to Thurso passengers who presently have to wait, as at any intermediate station, for the train to come into the station before being able to board. I do agree that passenger numbers are greater from Thurso (the train and bus journey times are the same at four hours) but what is required is a more comfortable and warmer waiting area on the covered platform. If more seats were provided, the area was made more windproof and if the train actually stopped under cover, which it never does, the boarding of trains at Thurso would be more in keeping with the 21st century. I waited in the cold on many evenings in the nineties and up to 2007 for the last train to Wick.
I wish to make my views known to the committee, and trust that this idea from Mike does not become FoFNL policy. I am sure Mr Alastair Roy, champion of Wick travellers, would be willing to agree with me were he still resident in the town. I hope I am representative of other Wick rail users. I do not wish to see an article in the Groat or the Courier suggesting this as a way forward, nor start a Thurso-Wick conflict of interest.
We have to look to the future and the other quote from Issue 48 of a time to come when the services will need strengthened to four cars may yet come in the not so distant future. Maybe sooner than we think. The rail service to Wick needs to be kept "main line"