In my last Headcode, I alluded to the delicate nature of Invernet traffic into Inverness and how, unlike major conurbations, passengers who have been hard-won from their cars could easily drift away again if the service is not consistently reliable. Since then, we have had a number of days on which an industrial dispute has reduced the railway north of Inverness to a skeleton service, with nothing at all on the northern part of the route. Now, it is not for a user group to become involved in such matters, but it does seem to me to be unfortunate, to say the least, that the core reason behind the dispute - driver only operation - is something which only affects the Central Belt but that the dispute hardly affected train services there. It was the rural routes, on which DOO is highly unlikely ever to be introduced, which suffered most - Far North, Kyle, West Highland and Stranraer. We do not yet know whether the lack of train services on our line has had a lasting effect; we can only hope that it hasn't.
The most visited tourist attraction north of the Great Glen is Dunrobin Castle and, yes, it does receive more visitors than the Castle of Mey; fifty thousand against thirty thousand, so we understand. Your committee has been concerned for some time that the adjacent station, which serves no other purpose, is not served at the right times and dates to fit the castle's opening hours. We know that this concern is shared by the castle's operators. We have been in contact with Transport Scotland over the matter but it still remains unresolved. Unfortunately, it is too late for this summer but we would hope it will be sorted out by next year.
This is the fiftieth newsletter of the Friends of the Far North Line. When the society was founded, there were real fears for the line's existence. Whilst we should never be complacent, I think we can be reasonably certain that it is now secure. What of the future? Some detractors describe the Far North Line as for "just a few tourists". There is no doubt that, particularly in the summer, it is an important tourist route, even an "attraction". However, for the rest of the year, it remains a public service for those who live and work along the east coast of Scotland north of the Great Glen and in its hinterland. So, having contributed to ensuring the continuing operation of the line, we must campaign for frequency and journey time improvements. Only by doing this, can we begin to compete with the A862 and A9.
We are rapidly approaching this year's Annual General Meeting. You could be forgiven for thinking that it seems to have come very quickly. Yes, it has. Our constitution requires that it be held in May, June or July. Last year, it was at the end of July: almost as late as it can be. This year, we thought we'd try a Bank Holiday weekend to see if it helps with attendance. There are only two of those within the required months, so that it why it's early. We do hope that as many of you as possible will be able to visit the Highland Capital, hopefully for an extended stay. For any of you who arrive on the Sunday, our secretary, Gavin Sinclair, and I will be in the Blackfriars in Academy Street from seven o'clock. We'd be delighted to see you there and, you never know, we might even buy you a drink. If you need solid sustenance, the pub does food until nine o'clock. There are not many places where you can buy a venison burger; this is one.