Putting this newsletter together has really brought home the seriousness of the state of the Far North Line. This issue is full of articles and letters which should give Abellio and Network Rail (not to mention Transport Scotland) much food for thought. These are not only penned by members of FoFNL, there have been many items in the press, some of which are in the newsletter. There are also letters from members of the public and a couple of articles by former railwaymen - men with huge experience of running railways.
One of the most shocking pieces of information in these pages is contained in Transform Scotland's News Release on page 16. It is not about the Far North Line but simply states that it was possible to travel by train from Perth to Edinburgh and from Dundee to Edinburgh in 1895 6 and 7 minutes respectively quicker than can be achieved now. These are both inter-city routes and 120 years have elapsed!
It is just over ten years since First took over the ScotRail franchise and the advent of Abellio has sent us scurrying through back issues of the newsletter to see what was being said then.
FoFNL Newsletter 32, September 2004 "Headcode" by Richard Ardern
"We say good bye to National Express and welcome to First Group..."
"Recently the poor timekeeping on the FNL has been causing havoc with passengers' journey plans and delaying connecting services. This is something that National Express and First must address as a matter of urgency. We would not like to see passengers drifting away before the Invernet services are established..."
FoFNL Newsletter 35, September 2005 "Opportunities From The New Timetable" by Richard Ardern
"The 20 minute deceleration of services between Wick and Inverness is much to be regretted and we must hope that the previous timings can be restored before too long. Recent injunctions from the Scottish Executive and from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) should have left Network Rail in no doubt that action is required from them."
"When the June deceleration was explained at the Rail Passengers Committee's public meeting in Dingwall in May, we were told that the Scottish Transport Minister had instructed Network Rail to seek to restore the previous line speed in early course. Since then, the Office of Rail Regulation wrote to Network Rail (NR) on 8 July setting out that company's obligations. In particular: "Network Rail must maintain routes to the published capability level at April 2001" and "If operators want to run more trains of the same type on a route, NR is responsible for any increase in maintenance needed. NR must not charge operators extra for this". To my mind, the "published capability level" would include, not just the number of trains, but the end to end timings. Let us hope that ScotRail will request a return to the "capability" of Wick to Inverness journeys taking less than four hours."
"We are told that the timetable is now more 'robust' in that the trains should be able to keep time."
Richard's comment to me recently:
"Several of those sentences ring so true today and the instructions then from ORR and the Scottish Government to Network Rail have certainly not been carried out! We are still in the same predicament."
However, to finish on a positive note I'll put on my musician's hat. First ScotRail sponsored the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for several years. We were issued with individual rail passes for journeys between the main Scottish cities which were valid for our travel as required on concert days, and for travelling back to Glasgow the following day after staying overnight. This made our lives miles better by not being forced to travel on group tickets. It also helped to mitigate the overcrowding that could occur when we were all trying to travel on the same train.
First ScotRail gained many marketing opportunities at our concerts and a very positive image as a company working in Scotland that cared about Scottish culture.