FoFNL AGM, 18 June 2011, Report
Our President, John Thurso, MP, opened the 2011 AGM in Wick by telling members that Wick is the capital of Caithness and that there has always been a fierce rivalry between Wick and Thurso. Viscount Thurso told the AGM that the new High Speed 2 line was necessary for the future, although there has been considerable opposition to such a scheme given as the railway line will be some 200m from some people's back garden. John Thurso insists, however, that HS2 should start from Wick and not from the south! Our President ended his address by saying that infrastructure investment is very important and that is why we should invest in assets on the Far North Line for further than the medium term.
The Convener then invited Kenny Scott, Engineering Director, First ScotRail, to address the AGM. Mr Scott told the meeting of his background and career, starting as an apprentice at Craigentinny working on HSTs in 1977. From there, Mr Scott moved to a succession of management posts including depot manager at Newton Heath in Manchester and then New Trains Manager at Chester with the introduction of class 175 rolling stock at First North Western. Mr Scott then introduced the new class 185 fleet of trains at Transpennine Express before moving to First ScotRail.
ScotRail operates a mixed fleet of classes 156, 158, 170, 314, 318, 320, 322, 334 and 380 rolling stock as well as the Mark II and III sleeper vehicles. There are 48 class 158 trains, with 25 trains allocated to Inverness depot and 23 at Haymarket depot. Out of the 48 class 158 trains, 42 are required in traffic. There has been significant improvement carried out to the class 158 fleet, including engine overhauls, fitting new radiators, and coupler midlife overhauls. New auxiliary heaters have also been installed, with additional resources provided at Wick to pre-heat the morning trains. Many passengers have complained about the cold or lack of heating, particularly on the first train from Wick in the morning. Improvements have also been made to the air-conditioning. The class 158 fleet has also undergone a major refurbishment and these trains are now in service on the Far North and Kyle lines. The trains have new lighting, new flooring, new and additional luggage racks, table lamps, new seats and seating layout with more table seats, wheelchair area and additional bike space.
The winter of 2010-11 was one of the most extreme weathers in many years. The winter weather was prolonged and affected all parts of Scotland and all modes of transport. Mr Scott told us that train performance was poor as the weather physically damaged many train sets. Trains took significant time to de-ice and there was a delay in repairing trains, given the number of failed trains. Train skirts were used to help de-ice trains. This involved creating 'poly-tunnels' with space heaters and also using new de-icing chemicals. ScotRail has also identified improvements for the future including air systems, air horn, coupler, underframe and braking improvements. New winter preparedness processes are being developed, for what will likely be the mildest winter in Scotland for many years!
Mr Scott reminded the AGM that from Monday 20 June, the 13:59 Inverness to Wick will stop additionally at Kinbrace, on request, at 16:55.
Frank Roach, Rail Development manager, HITRANS started his presentation by telling the AGM that Wick has enjoyed passenger growth of 50% since 2005. HITRANS recently appointed SDG to conduct the 'InverCity' study, which will assess the current levels of train service at Inverness, and current demand for rail journeys to the Central Belt and cross-border. The study will also identify and analyse the market share across business, leisure, education and tourism and forecast passenger growth. There already have been some improvements, with the announcement that two additional services will be scheduled on the Highland Main Line, in both directions, from the December 2011 timetable change. An additional service will also be provided from Elgin to Inverness, arriving at 08:15. Frank also told the AGM of the 'Giant Puffin' intelligent journey planning tool. Marketing of this product is underway and web development will begin this summer.