The 'pipeline' is the Scottish Government's new process for deciding which enhancement projects will find favour and funding in the future. Some of our committee members have been attending seminars to find out more about this during April. What we are looking for, of course, is not process but completed upgrades, and the Lentran Loop is number one for the Far North Line!
The HML is still waiting for its CP5 enhancement of improved loops and signalling at Aviemore and Pitlochry. Work has now begun to lengthen the southbound platform at Pitlochry. The Transport Scotland website on 14 April stated "Detailed information on the necessary works are anticipated Spring 2018". We are promised completion and a new faster timetable with extra trains by 2019.
New trains are coming. Will the ScotRail HSTs have a Quiet Coach? Will the East Coast Azumas be slower than the existing train on the HML gradients and will they have comfortable seats and catering (particularly satisfying hot food) appropriate to an eight hour journey from London? What will the new Caledonian sleepers, partly paid for with £50m from the UK government and £60m from the Scottish government and operated by Serco, be like? There are lots of questions but we should know the answers next year.
The proposal by Royal Mail to vacate their Inverness building on Strothers Lane between the bus and railway stations has once again given an opportunity to design a much better public transport interchange. "Too good an opportunity to miss" was the Press and Journal's headline on 13 April and their editorial stated "When you consider what a major tourist magnet the Highland capital is to travellers from around the world, it is odd that its bus and rail stations are not side by side for convenience. This rare opportunity to bring them closer together must be grasped quickly."
This author remembers walking round this area with our late Vice President, Frank Spaven, in the previous millennium and a little more recently with a former Highland Council Director of Planning. The problem has always been finding a funding package and getting landowners to agree that it would be in the public interest to do this. I would go further and say that Scotland's reputation is at stake. For one of our biggest industries, tourism, and for the second most visited part of Scotland, after Edinburgh, it is a national strategic imperative. Let us have a Scottish Government lead on this to make it happen and at the same time to considerably improve access by the HML - please!
Will the pipeline help in all of this by providing capacity and speed on our Highland railways and construction of new freight facilities where needed? Will we grasp the opportunities? Surely we have got beyond STOP (Studies Transport Only Procrastination) and we need to press GO (Grasp Opportunities) on all these environmentally sustainable improvements.
GO FOR IT!