I need to start this Headcode with an apology. When the 17.52 and 18.15 departures from Inverness were combined, the Kyle portion was on the front. The Friends of the Far North Line has been campaigning since then for the portions to be reversed to shorten journey times for the majority of passengers. In December, 2010, this was achieved but we completely omitted to report the fact in the January newsletter. I'm very sorry about that. It's obviously something we should have lauded as a success. Also, in my last Headcode, I was less than complimentary about First ScotRail's efforts at running, or rather, not running trains north of the Great Glen during last winter's first bout of bad weather. I did though, comment that, after a brief respite, when more heavy snow came back, the effect on the Far North was not as bad. We now know why: FSR obtained some skirts and polytunnels which it used to thaw out the class 170s, thus meaning that they no longer had to "steal" our 158s to cover. A very good solution to a problem which we applaud. You will recall that, in the last newsletter, we reported that we had met Transport Scotland and tabled proposals for an hourly train service between Inverness and Tain. Although these were received favourably and we were led to understand that TS was taking them forward to produce a business case, in March we received a reply telling us that they were unable to take the proposals any further as we had not provided a business case. Therefore, we are now stuck in a "Catch 22" situation.
We are not in a position to do the business case. We have neither the expertise nor the finance to do it. If there is anyone out there who can, we would very much like to hear from you. In the meantime, we sent a flyer to candidates in the election for the Scottish Parliament imploring them publicly to support our campaign. I regret to say that none of them felt that it was an important enough issue to comment upon. Now that some of them have been elected, perhaps those members who would benefit from improved frequency of service would like to contact their representatives directly. Certainly, the society will not let the matter rest.
The saga of the reopening of Conon Bridge station plods its way on with yet another study under way. At least, this time it's detailed design work. We have lost count of the number of studies there have now been and how much they have all cost but it must be approaching the cost of the actual station itself by now. Needless to say, though, each estimate comes in higher than all previous ones. This is another project which we will continue campaigning for.
I will conclude this Headcode by reminding all members that, of the fifty-three editions of this newsletter which have now been produced, all but the first eleven have been edited by Roger Piercy. Roger has now decided that it is time for someone else to take over the reins and, therefore, this is the last newsletter which he will produce. As someone who came quite late to the society I would like to pay tribute to him for all his hard work over the years and for all the help he has given me since I became active in the Friends of the Far North Line. I do hope, Roger, that, although you have also said that you no longer wish to remain on the committee, you continue to be an active member of FoFNL and that you stay in touch with all of us who have become your friends over the years. Roger, I thank you.
Headcode - September 2011 (Omitted from printed newsletter)
This is the first newsletter since our successful AGM in Wick back in June. Thanks to all of you who came, some of you long distances, and to our speakers, John Thurso, MP, Kenny Scott and Frank Roach. This is also the first newsletter produced by our new editor, Tony Jervis. I hope you will agree that its quality mirrors that of his predecessor, Roger Piercy, but its success or failure relies as much upon the contributors and I thank those also. If any members, or non-members, feel they have something to write about Far North Line matters or, indeed, anything on Highland rail, we always welcome contributions.
The Far North Line has had a successful summer, with some trains arriving in Inverness in excess of capacity on a regular basis, and we are seeing some of the loadings keeping up despite the end of the traditional summer break. It proves that there is much local traffic as well as tourists and that our campaign for an hourly service between Inverness and Tain has merit. We are still looking into how the business case for this can be produced, given that Transport Scotland has declined to take it forward itself. The success of rail during the road works on Kessock Bridge in June showed how rail can be part of the solution to Inverness's traffic congestion and that there is plenty of local traffic out there.
The elections to the Scottish Parliament in May produced a majority government for the first time since it was adjourned in March, 1707 and we were hoping that the new government would continue the rail renaissance which has been enjoyed in Scotland since the parliament's reconvening in 1999. As you can see from Richard Ardern's piece elsewhere, he attended the Cabinet meeting in Elgin at the beginning of September and was very disappointed that rail hardly featured at all. We call upon the Scottish government to fund fully the proposed upgrades to both the Highland Main Line and to Inverness to Aberdeen, both of which are at Network Rail's option selection stage. We are also disappointed to see that NR is not recommending any FNL projects in its Rail Utilisation Strategy 2 and have written back to them to reiterate our views that improvements should be made.
There is a piece in this newsletter on how the catering on the Highland Chieftain has been reduced from a three-course meal to a slice of warm quiche on a good day. Sadly, there's very little that anyone in Scotland can do about it as East Coast is an English franchise. The Welsh Assembly Government funds a return train each day between Holyhead and Cardiff, which conveys a full restaurant car, serving breakfast on the southbound journey and dinner on the northbound, both cooked freshly to order. I have partaken of the dinner on several occasions and I can confirm that it is excellent. A second return service is to start in December. Is there, perhaps, a case for the Scottish Government to do something similar on the HML?
One piece of good news to report is that, after Stagecoach decided it no longer wanted to convey rail passengers between Thurso railway station and Scrabster, First ScotRail jumped in and now provides a taxi for through passengers who book in advance or who advise the guard on the train in good time.
I started this Headcode with this year's AGM and I will finish with next year's. The Inverness and Ross-shire Railway opened its first section of line as far as Dingwall on Wednesday, 11th June, 1862. Our AGM will be in Dingwall on Monday, 11th June, 2012, the 150th anniversary of that opening. David Simpson, Managing Director of Network Rail Scotland, has agreed to be our main speaker and I am delighted to report that the Westminster Member of Parliament whose constituency includes Dingwall, Charles Kennedy, MP, has also agreed to speak to us. We haven't yet planned the day but we believe that the Highland Railway Society will want to mark it in some way, so we will be coordinating our plans with theirs.