Welcome to the first issue of Far North Express in its new, more colourful guise. This is a good point to mention that FNE is published three times a year: in January, May and September. We carry a lot of articles about the Far North Line and the routes that feed in from the south. By their nature, and the purpose of FoFNL, they are very substantial. We are always on the lookout for other interesting items - the only criterion is that they are in some way relevant to the line but they don't have to be directly rail-related.
One matter covered in this issue is the subject of bikes on trains - not something that FoFNL is actively campaigning about, but the cause of significant public relations problems for Abellio in Scotland. FoFNL's main focus however is performance on the FNL.
In the weeks leading up to publication your committee was very active in studying performance of the line and there was much thought about how best to show that day-to-day running is still in a dreadful state. We considered screenshots from the ScotRail website which would graphically show how a whole day's running can be ruined by a single fault on a train, or a missing crew member. However, we decided that any regular reader of this magazine will already know that the current infrastructure prevents recovery to normal running when something goes wrong, which it does most days.
My privilege as editor, in my eyrie near the EGIP electrification base in Bishopbriggs, is to contemplate the meaning of Far North Line life. The absolute major requirement for the FNL is the reinstatement of the six miles of double track between Clunes and Clachnaharry (a stretch shared with the route to Kyle of Lochalsh). Wondering what this might cost I found an item in FNE Jan 2007 mentioning a combined figure for doubling and some resignalling to be £15m (from "Highland Rail Room for Growth", a 2006 report by Scott Wilson). Although at any given moment an amount of, perhaps, £20m seems very large, in the long term the amount of money spent on the FNL may not have been very high. Last November Network Rail found, and replaced, lengths of rail dated 1908, which must have supported Lord Kitchener on his last railway journey!
Border Telegraph reported on 4 April that during a presentation in Galashiels organised by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation a question was asked about the drastic reduction from 16 to 9½ miles of the double-track provision on the reopened Borders Railway. The reply from a Network Rail project manager was very revealing. He said that the cost of being fined for late or cancelled trains was considerably less than the cost of double tracking the line. Referring to the likelihood of a breakdown, he added: "That's going to happen twice a year maybe, I'll take the flak for it when it does."
The FNL is a single-track road with (very few) passing places. Imagine the outcry were one to suggest reducing the A9 between Inverness and Thurso from single-carriageway to single-track to reduce maintenance costs.
Somehow the message from the Far North needs to get into the minds of enough politicians. If one were cynical one might imagine their minds to be preoccupied with things that win or lose votes. Of course, that can't really be the case - although suppose the Edinburgh-Glasgow main line were to perform in a similar fashion to the FNL...