Far North Line Upgrades
H ow the Far North Line could be speeded up is a question that has been bandied about for quite some time now. Well, it's easy: spend money on it. The problem is that it's being run on a shoe string.
I recently read of railways in Brazil where freight trains carry 30,000 tons of iron ore in 330 wagons powered by four locos. The driver controlled the intermediate locos by radio. Loops were operated from the control centre using radio to control the points and audio instructions to the drivers. At the end of the journey, special couplings enabled the wagons to tilt 180 degrees for emptying into a ship going to China.
On their underground system at São Paulo, some stations have screens to stop people getting pushed over the platform edge due to crowding, the trains are stopped by sensors at an exact spot, and train and screen doors open simultaneously. So that shows what investment can do. Handy for Conon and Beauly?
However, to get back to our own financially starved line, a few things are staring us in the face which would help immensely. There are two signalling desks at Inverness. One signals; the other has copy monitors for control of level crossings. If both desks could signal, the system could be divided in two as at Banavie on the West Highland Line. Desk number one could do Inverness to Kyle and desk number two could do Dingwall to Wick and Thurso. This would be a massive help in reducing the pressure of trying to put all radio communications and tokens through one signalbox radio. It would also help the engineers as it would double the number of tokens available to them.
AOCLs being fitted with barriers (see Mike Lunan's article) could raise the speed of trains over the crossings and go a long way in removing doubt about who was in the wrong if collisions were to happen. The radio could dictate at Dingwall and Georgemas Junctions which route the train was going to use instead of the driver having to come out of the cab and manually select it. Loop points which are hydraulically held in place (unlocked) could benefit from approach clamp locking in the facing direction and track circuit release for the trailing direction, which would allow trains to go over the points at conventional speeds.
I'm quite sure using modern equipment many things could be done to speed things up. All it needs is a bit of investment. Are the rural lines of Britain not entitled to their piece of the cake? The passengers pay their fares just the same as the others so they surely deserve to be treated equally.