Report of meeting held by Transport Scotland in Dingwall on 6 December 2016 to discuss their Consultation on Scotland's Rail Infrastructure Strategy from 2019 document.
The meeting was led by Steven McMahon, Head of Rail Strategy & Funding at TS. He gave us an overview of the timetable for the CP6 process. Scottish Ministers will produce their HLOS "by June 2017" and NR responds to it before ORR makes a final determination towards the end of 2018. CP6 starts on 1 April 2019. NR has already produced its Scotland Route Study which sets out a long list of things they believe it useful to do...by 2043. Some of these are on the FNL, but they will not necessarily make it to the final list for CP6 or even later 5-year Control Periods. FoFNL has been campaigning vigorously for the Lentran Loop to appear in CP6, and these efforts will continue right up to the HLOS. Ministers make the final decision, but they are necessarily guided by officials in prioritizing competing parcels of infrastructure spending.
The HLOS process is likely to be different this time round. TS is keen to adopt what it calls a "pipeline" approach whereby "a decision to commit to a specific enhancement project will be taken when the business case is clear and both price and affordability are certain". This makes sense provided the new process doesn't incorporate systemic delays - these have been the bane of planned enhancements for many years. I was left with the clear impression that Ministers are well aware of the need to spread investment across the whole of Scotland, and that the natural tendency of the Benthamite bums-on-seats argument to concentrate spending in the populous Central Belt will be resisted. Social inclusion remains a central policy. Indeed it is very helpful that the Cabinet Secretary with overall charge of the railway also has Connectivity as part of his portfolio, and that the Minister with daily responsibility for the railway also has The Islands as part of his. Remoteness will therefore be uppermost in ministerial minds as the HLOS process continues.
It was gratifying to be told that Steven McMahon was well aware of pressure from many sides to build the Lentran Loop. However that fact is not of course enough to get it done: the argument still has to be made formally. Responses to the Consultation are due by mid-February and FoFNL's Response will appear in the May FNE. It is made clear that TS does not want "views on the day-to-day operation of services...[or on] priority investment schemes, whether proposed upgrades...or new routes". FoFNL will heed this advice, and make the case for those upgrades elsewhere.
I found this meeting extremely useful - it's always nice to visit Ross County's ground - and it will inform our Response in due course.