FoFNL's purpose is very clear - do everything we can to campaign for improvements on the Far North Line. As I write we are waiting for the detail of the Scottish Government's plans for investment in Scottish railways in Control Period 6 (2019-24). We have reason to be optimistic about the prospects for the FNL. Much money has been spent already on upgrading long sections of track, improving level crossings to enable the raising of speed limits and refurbishing the Class 158 trains. Transport Scotland and the ScotRail Alliance have stated clearly that they are committed to raising the standard of the Far North Line, and the Scottish Government's Programme for Government, announced on 5 September by Nicola Sturgeon, mentions the FNL specifically - service improvements for the line between Inverness and Wick/Thurso - so our fingers are crossed and our breath bated.
However, it is the Editor's privilege to stand back from the FNL detail and cast an eye around. The Programme for Government also talks about making the A9 the first fully electric-enabled highway in Scotland. This is part of the plan for new petrol and diesel cars and vans to be phased out in Scotland by 2032 - the end of the period covered by the government's Climate Change Plan.
I expect this plan will also include major railway electrification in Scotland, as well as research into better battery train technology, to enable the phasing out of diesel trains too by 2032. We know that the latest battery operated buses are able to manage 200 miles on one charge, so battery trains on the FNL may well be possible in the foreseeable future. Indeed, the Programme for Government does state its intention to introduce hybrid electric trains.
At present, however, while the Scottish Government has given no indication so far of plans to electrify the Highland Main Line, the UK Government seems to prefer 'bi-mode' trains to cover the non-electrified lines rather than electrifying them. This means that while the A9 is electric-enabled for cars, the parallel HML will be inhabited for the time being by diesel HSTs (which are however going to be excellent trains to ride in) and the bi-mode Highland Chieftain running on diesel.
For those reading this who are not sure what 'bi-mode' trains are, I would say that basically they are excellent, powerful electric trains which also contain diesel generators which they have to drag up and down the electrified routes ready for use 'beyond the wires' - with the heavy engines and fuel wasting electricity and hindering acceleration! The Highland Chieftain may well end up struggling in diesel-mode on the HML with its curves and gradients. Let's hope that this is a 'stop-gap' until the Scottish Government has the HML electrified and the UK Government completes main line electrification in England and Wales so that the redundant diesel engines in these trains can be removed.
FoFNL is pleased to announce that Jamie Stone MP has agreed to be our new president. This continues the long tradition of this position being held by the Westminster MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.
We are fortunate to have cross-party representation among our figureheads - Jamie Stone is a Liberal Democrat and our two vice-presidents, Rhoda Grant MSP and Gail Ross MSP, are Labour and SNP respectively.