When I stepped down from being your Convener in 2009 I did not envisage returning to carry out a further term after John Brandon's retirement a year ago. No-one was prepared to assume the position at the 2014 AGM, but despite this FoFNL has been kept on the road, largely by Richard Ardern. He is unable to devote the necessary time to being Convener, hence my reappearance before your very eyes. The Committee co-opted me as a Member and elected me Convener: it is of course up to those of you who will be at the AGM to put this on a more solid footing. If you do, then I must make it clear - as I did to the Committee - that I am happy to look at being in post for 2 years. By then I shall be, astonishing as it must seem to some of you, 75. And at 75 I hang up my boots. FoFNL therefore has around 24 months to find the next Convener. That work starts now.
So does the enormous amount of work needed on the FNL itself. Performance has been - let's use a technical term - lousy since train sets were moved south to cater for the extra traffic surrounding the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The weather has been less severe than in many recent winters, yet the problems - often wind-blown trees - have led to substantial cancellations and delays (not just up here, but throughout the network). While safety is paramount the concept of running trains for the benefit of passengers even in difficult conditions seems to have been lost. There has to be an alternative. This may involve cutting down huge numbers of trees - so be it, provided that a somewhat larger number (preferably not all deciduous) are planted well away from the railway.
With three new franchises operating trains from Inverness FoFNL will seek meetings at a senior level in order to be able to articulate our hopes for the next four years (the remaining part of Control Period 5). The planning for CP6 (which doesn't start until April 2019) will start later this year, and Network Rail will be reminded of our agenda (published in FNE 63 and 64).
While preparing this Headcode I have re-read most of the issues of FNE since 2005. While there have been some major improvements - an extra train each way, better interiors in the 158s, controlled-emission toilets - it's depressing to note that the service has gone nowhere (or even backwards) in so many areas. Journey times are now nearly half an hour longer than they were 15 years ago. On what other stretch of the Trans-European Strategic Network (yes, we are) would this be tolerated? Forget Europe - where else in Scotland (since that's where the spending decisions are made) would this be tolerated? Now that a few tens of thousands of passengers in the Borders have been connected (at considerable expense) the few tens of thousands of passengers north of Inverness expect money - considerably less - to be spent on them. We've waited long enough. The drums are beating.