Sometimes adversity can lead to the considered reassessment of a situation and the opening up of a beneficial opportunity. For the Far North Line, the many timekeeping problems of the last six months have led to the formation of a working party currently looking at the infrastructure improvements needed to make the line operate more reliably for the benefit of both passengers and freight. That this group includes one of the train drivers who are key to the process is particularly welcome.
In this issue we publish the second of FoFNL's broad brush suggestions to Network Rail based on the question "What enhancements does NR need to make to deliver the ideal timetable?" The answers should also implement their CEO Iain Coucher's challenge of seven years ago to "find and exploit real opportunities to reduce journey times." Let it be that this process is now well under way.
Abellio, the incoming ScotRail franchise holder, has plans for a £3M+ retail development at Inverness station and Highland Council is planning to improve Inverness City Centre, particularly Academy Street and Station Square. It makes sense that the two schemes dovetail with, and complement, each other for the benefit of travellers and shoppers alike.
We have already seen how the Eastgate development was allowed to encroach too close to the station such that the free flow of vehicles collecting and delivering railway passengers is unduly restricted, especially the turning of rail replacement buses. On the other side of the station, commercial pressures have hitherto prevented easier access to and from the bus station for onward journeys.
We now have another chance to make the Hub of the Highlands much more passenger friendly for both residents and tourists alike. Abellio might like to introduce the sensible Dutch "Train Taxi" system in conjunction with the existing taxis. Retailing has its place in (or above) the railway station, but a priority should be much enhanced provision of warm, comfortable waiting areas for passengers. Queuing on the concourse can be a cold and miserable experience which should be avoidable if proper provision is made for passengers.
The time is right for the Highlands to have an imaginatively designed 21st century station upgrade and a new mostly double track electrified railway from the south, both as ambitious and successful as the new Haymarket Station and the reopened Airdrie to Bathgate railway. The time is right for the Far North Line to get high speed points and a signalling system as modern as the new Borders Railway. The current RETB signalling was pioneered in the Far North, but everywhere in England and Wales which adopted it too has now moved on to something better. The time is right for Highland railways to take a big step forward into a new modern era. The time is now!