Future Plans Are No Plans
On 9 September last year, David Stewart, Scottish Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, asked whether the Scottish Executive whether had set aside funding for improvements to the rail network on the Far North Line. On 21 September the Minister for Housing and Transport was quite blunt: "There are no rail infrastructure improvements planned at present on the Far North Line." He did, however, offer a virtual carrot by adding that the Scottish Government specification for rail infrastructure works for the period 2014 - 2019 will be set out in the High Level Output Specification in 2012. However, when the Initial Industry Plan for Scotland for that period, setting out what the railway industry feels is necessary for economic growth in, was published on 29 September, there was no mention of lines north of Inverness, although improved rail services between Aberdeen and Inverness and upgrading of the Perth to Inverness line were included.
To a second question from Mr Stewart, asking what plans there were to improve rail times on the Far North Line, Mr Brown could only say that officials from Transport Scotland, Network Rail and ScotRail met regularly to discuss timetable improvements across Scotland, but he did know that plans were being developed for a Wick and Thurso to Inverness train to make an additional station call "to better meet local needs", presumably the 11:31 Alness stop reported on the front cover of Far North Express No 54.