scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator


I'm going to concentrate this Headcode not on the Far North Line itself but on the connecting lines at Inverness, which are so vital to the existence and future of the FNL. Firstly, the good news is that, as far as we can tell, the continued running of the Anglo-Scottish daytime trains serving Aberdeen and, more importantly for us, Inverness seems to be assured. We still await the Scottish Government's decision on the overnight sleeper services but it is apparent from the submissions and evidence given to the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee by almost every witness called, including the Friends of the Far North Line, that there is unanimous support for their continuation also. This reflects the responses to the Rail 2014 consultation. However, the not so good news is that the upgrades of the Perth to Inverness line - the Highland Main Line or HML - and the Aberdeen to Inverness route seem to be delayed for some considerable time. In 2008, we were promised by the First Minister, Alex Salmond, MSP, that the HML would be upgraded with an hourly service and reduced journey times by December, 2011. Now, I think we all suspected that this was pushing it a bit and that 2012 was more realistic. What we did get last December were two additional trains in each direction but, because the route has long single-line sections with passing loops and none of the infrastructure upgrade work has been done, it has had a deleterious effect upon journey times. The Network Rail Engineering Study for Aberdeen to Inverness was published in October, 2010 and, although we had originally hoped that the upgrade of the route would be completed by the end of 2014, a more realistic timescale was December, 2016. Suddenly, and without any apparent warning, we are told that the upgrades will not be completed until 2025 for the HML and 2030 for the Aberdeen route. We are most unhappy at this and said so when we gave evidence to the Parliamentary Committee in March; this made headlines in both the Herald and the Scotsman. At the same time, though, the Scottish Government announced major upgrades of the A9 and A96, the roads parallel to the two railways. This appeared to take everyone by surprise, not least Network Rail, who were in the throes of determining the feasibility and costs of a new bridge at Inveramsay where the A96 passes underneath the railway line and where the bridge permits only a single-track road with traffic lights, is just 15 feet 3 inches high and has been "bashed" several times in the past few years. The design options were for either a single- or double-track railway but nowhere in the study was a dual carriageway proposed or even suggested. The study went into the options at some length (section 4.8 for anyone who wishes to read it all), so it seems that this has all been wasted. Needless to say, many organisations are displeased at the sudden change of emphasis from rail to road and there will, I'm sure, be much lobbying over it. We will continue to campaign for hourly services over the routes into Inverness from Perth, Aberdeen and Tain.

I must now move on to another subject which has the feeling of deja vu about it. After just a year at the helm, unfortunately, our editor, Tony Jervis, is having to give up the post for personal reasons, so, once again, we are on the lookout for an editor. If there is anyone out there, member or non-member, who feels that he or she could take on the task, which is not onerous, please get in contact with the society.

Finally, our AGM is now very close and I hope to see as many of you there as can make the trip north.

John Brandon, Convener