Headcode : September, 2013
Back in 2008, the First Minister, Alex Salmond, said, on a visit to Inverness, "Railways must at least compete with the roads." He went on to tell those present that the Highland Main Line (HML) would be improved in respect of both journey times and frequency by December, 2011. This was heard by two committee members and reported by at least three newspapers. However, the Scottish Government's press release made no mention of the date and, when a spokesman was asked recently about it, we were told that they had no record of such a promise having been made. At around the same time, the Strategic Transport Projects Review, issued by the then Minister for Transport and Climate Change, gave 2016 as the date for sub-two hour Aberdeen - Inverness journey times and increases in frequency. Network Rail subsequently published a timescale that actually had it finishing in February, 2017. Both of these dates now seem to have slipped a bit - by 15 years apiece. The Government hides behind the modest improvements made to frequency and journey time on the HML in December, 2012 as though these were the be-all and end-all of the entire project. Recently, the roads lobby was most upset to be told that the proposed A9 flyover at Berriedale, on the coast north of Helmsdale, would not be funded. However, other improvements in the area will go ahead and went out to tender in August. Given what Mr. Salmond said in 2008, can we ask, please, what improvements to the Far North Line can be expected to "compete with the roads?" Lentran loop? Kildonan loop? Georgemas curve? Improved loop speeds? And, given the vast amount of money apparently available for the A9 and A96, why are we still no further on from where we were in October, 2010 when Network Rail issued its GRIP2 engineering study on the Aberdeen to Inverness proposals? We have yet to see anything at all for Perth to Inverness. All we have is hearsay: loops at Ballinluig and Etteridge, and an extension of double track from Culloden to Daviot. Now, I'm not saying that the trunk road access to Inverness should not be improved but the First Minister's promise to treat rail equally should be kept. The one piece of good news we do have is the money being spent on level crossing safety, although that is chiefly to protect motorists from their own ignorance of what red lights mean and it's from a national level crossing safety pot, not specifically for the FNL. Let's hope that, if the conversions are successful, we can see rail speed improvements over the crossings. What we'd really like to see is signalling improvements but the latest news on this is that the Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB) is to be upgraded partly because of a reallocation of existing radio frequencies to allow changes to European television. We are, though, told that this will allow operational enhancements to the signalling operation but we don't know what they are yet. We now understand that RETB is not expected to be replaced until at least 2035.
Those of you who were at the Annual General Meeting will know that, after I was re-elected Convener, I said that I intended that this year will be my last. Our Vice-President, John Melling, in his open-ing speech to the Conference, reminded members that my two predecessors both had to continue in office longer than they had wished; I would prefer not to. Can I ask you, please, to consider very carefully whether you would wish to offer your services and be willing to be nominated in 2014? Just because you are not on the committee now does not bar you: I wasn't. In fact, my immediate predecessor only joined the society shortly before taking office. At the same time, you will know that we still do not have a newsletter editor and this is another post I am currently filling. Once again, I make a plea for someone to come forward please. Under the revised Constitution, you could be co-opted onto the present committee.