As we enter a new year, it would be nice to think that progress is being made towards the enhanced services on both the Highland main line and on the Aberdeen line but, as you can see from Richard Arden elsewhere in this newsletter , we seem to be further away than ever, despite promises to the contrary from the politicians. In fact, rail seems to have disappeared almost entirely from the SNP government's agenda. At best, it's indifferent and, at worst, it's hostile. Our brief, of course, is the Far North Line but we cannot ignore the other routes into Inverness as, without them, we would be isolated. In the coming year, committee members will continue to lobby through the media to ensure that we keep a high profile and remind those who make the decisions that we are still here.
The committee has continued to work on its proposals for an hourly train service between Inverness and Tain. We feel that we have probably gone as far as we can with the existing infrastructure. The timetable that we have produced has a few elements in it that are less than ideal but we feel that we have done the best we can so far. Our next stage will be to see how we can address these by proposing infrastructure enhancements. These do not have to be expensive but would be geared towards saving minutes and half-minutes here and there. There is a parallel to this. When the Deltics first started work on the East Coast Main Line in 1961, the target time between London and Edinburgh was six hours with a one-stop, 11-coach train. By the time they were replaced by HSTs in the late 1970s, this journey time had come down to five hours, twenty-three minutes. In fact, it was a little better than that because, by then, the locomotives were supplying electric train heating which was reckoned to take around three-hundred horsepower from the wheels. Other than the major remodelling of Peterborough and Doncaster, the rest of the journey time improvement was in small doses. I well remember the criticism of several of the works. What is the point, said many commentators, of spending all that money moving the River Great Ouse at Offord just to save a minute? Why realign Maxey curve? Why realign the curve at Newton Hall? Well, we know why now. If these works hadn't been done, there would be no four-hour trains between the Scottish and English capitals today. Our aim is to find similar but smaller projects on the Far North Line that can eat away at journey times and thus make our enhanced service be a true hourly one rather than having to remove station calls to make it work. We need to work out how we can run between Inverness and Dingwall in around twenty-eight minutes and run from Dingwall to Tain and back in fifty-eight. Back in 2008, Ian Coucher told us in Inverness that journey times must be improved on our line. This was repeated by David Simpson, Managing Director Network Rail Scotland, at a talk he gave to the Railway Study Association in London last year. This is our task for 2012.
I would like to remind everyone that our Annual General Meeting will be at the National Hotel in Dingwall on Monday, 11th June, the 150th anniversary of the opening of the line from Inverness to Dingwall. The formal notice of the meeting will be sent out with the May newsletter. If you are travelling from the south, tea and coffee will be available from 09:30. Then we will all repair back to the station for the 10:03 arrival from the north, when there will be a plaque unveiling to commemorate the sesquicentenary. The informal conference part of the day will start at 10:30, followed by a buffet lunch at 12:30, courtesy of Network Rail. Our formal AGM will be at 13:30 and should be over in time for passengers to the north to depart at 14:28 should they wish to. However, Highland Rail Heritage is proposing to organise something for the afternoon, details of which will be available nearer the time, so you may wish to stay for that.
I'd like to conclude by wishing everyone a happy and prosperous new year.