It is good that Abellio has restored the catering trolleys on the early morning trains at 06:18 from Wick and 07:02 from Inverness: vital in fact on freezing cold winter mornings. Network Rail is installing some more continuously welded rail on the Caithness section of the line south of Georgemas and new rail was also observed being delivered to Dingwall.
As you will read elsewhere the disruptive temporary speed restriction north of Muir of Ord has not yet been lifted having now been in force for around six years. You can also read FoFNL's two recent initiatives to get a long loop through Lentran on to the enhancement agenda for CP6 (2019-2024), or before, as this is the key to running more trains and running them more punctually (robustly in railway parlance). It is needed urgently.
Two new drivers at Wick should complete training by December and this will hopefully put an end to the shortages which have caused cancellations over the past 18 months. Incidences of the use of unrefurbished class 158 units based at Haymarket (Edinburgh) on the Far North and Kyle lines continue.
Transport Scotland's 29 June 2007 press release earmarked the 25 Inverness based refurbished units to "run the Inverness to Aberdeen, Inverness to Kyle and Inverness to the Far North routes". There should be plenty of these units to cope with the new Borders Railway services as well, but in the first week ScotRail twice sent two unrefurbished units to Inverness on the 10:35 from Edinburgh thus depriving passengers of comfort, first class, and greater luggage and bicycle space.
Frank Roach and FoFNL members fought hard to get the 2007 specification to include more comfortable seating aligned with windows, more luggage space and 4 (instead of 2) bicycle spaces to suit the long four hour journeys and the use of the FNL by End to End cyclists who use the train to reach or return from John o Groats.
The whole fleet is now to be refurbished to become "tourist trains" but instead of starting with the Haymarket units, which so badly need refreshing with the newer seats etc, it is Inverness's 158701/11 which are first in the queue. This time we were not consulted and it seems that the good work is to be undone with the removal of two of the bike spaces and the mid coach luggage racks! The reason is because of a new rule that there should be two wheelchair spaces on each train and in order to get more seats in. FoFNL has now made strong representations to retain the four bike spaces and extra luggage capacity, suggesting that a row of seats is taken out instead to create the extra wheelchair space.
Stacey Lynch's article explains the line enhancement progress Network Rail is making. In addition, we would like to hear whether the decision on double track between Inverness and Nairn has now been made. This is essential to avoid the late starting delays that currently occur when incoming trains are late.
Suggestions that the options report for the future would be released this month look unlikely to be met. Continuing delays to decisions on dualling and line speed improvements give cause for grave concern. The financial situation does not get any better, indeed, south of the border, Network Rail's enhancement programme is in trouble with two electrification schemes put on hold.
FoFNL has asked the Transport Minister to try to ensure that major HML work is completed at least a year before completion of the A9 dualling in order to allow modal shift to rail of both passengers and freight to become well established. If the road comes first, it is likely that the railway will lose traffic. We have also asked for electrification to be close behind to ensure retention of the specialist work team once the EGIP electrification scheme to Dunblane is completed in 2018/9.