This year's AGM and Conference was held in the Pentland Hotel, Thurso. The fact that we were at the north end of the line probably contributed to the smaller than usual attendance. However, we feel it is important that we hold the AGM in a different place on the line each year.
We were delighted to welcome Rhoda Grant MSP, one of our Vice Presidents, to the AGM. Sadly our other VP, Gail Ross MSP, was held up en route and didn't make it. Unfortunately our President, Jamie Stone MP was unable to attend - fingers crossed for next year.
After I read out the President's Welcome the Conference heard from four excellent speakers.
Alex Hynes (MD of the ScotRail Alliance) gave a very upbeat talk , as always. Things on the Far North Line, and ScotRail in general, looking good, as various problems are resolved - from no more 'skip-stopping' to much improved punctuality on the FNL. He mentioned that figures for revenue and journeys on the line are recovering and that significant money has been spent on signalling reliability. On-train catering, which had become very unreliable indeed, has been restored.
Alastair Dalton (Transport Correspondent for The Scotsman) gave a thought provoking view of how difficult it can sometimes be for the railways to get a good press and some of the pitfalls they should try and avoid.
Kirsty Watson (Project Manager, ScotRail) shared many of her rail experiences with us, including work on the Airdrie-Bathgate reopening and the Borders Railway. It was interesting to hear from her just how much work was involved in getting the temporary Class 365 electric trains brought in to help on Edinburgh-Glasgow - driver training, maintenance staff training and physical alterations to the trains, before any running could begin. Just like Alex, it was her absolute enthusiasm for railway work that came over.
Judith Crow (Finance and Administration Officer, Flows to the Future, Forsinard) gave us a wonderful insight into her work and motivated me to put RSPB Forsinard right at the top of places I want to visit.
The conference ended with a progress report from FoFNL member Frank Roach of HITRANS including information about the new Bus/Rail interchange being considered in Inverness, as well as the Caithness Sleeper proposal and work towards persuading more companies to use the railway for freight.