This is the response of the Friends of the Far North Line (FoFNL) to this document. We are not qualified to analyse the content in detail but wish to comment on some of the matters which arise therein.
We are pleased to note that Network Rail's higher expenditure plans for CP6 include mention of increased weather resilience. It is a source of frustration that extreme temperatures and high winds, all experienced in recent times on the Far North Line can so adversely affect the running of trains which traditionally have had the edge over road transport when bad weather strikes. The plans for extensive clearance of intruding vegetation are particularly welcomed.
FoFNL notes the reference to a higher spend on "core electrification" which reflects Transport Scotland's extremely welcome continuing policy of electrifying 100 track kms per year - in marked contrast to the ill-advised retrenchment in electrification by the current Secretary of State, and his commitment to the unsatisfactory bi-mode trains seen in England & Wales. The shortcomings of these trains will be highlighted when they take over running of the Highland Chieftain and struggle to keep to time over Drumochter and Slochd on the HML. The cost overruns which occurred on the GWR, due to the lack of recent electrification design and implementation experience have not been replicated in Scotland.
It was good to see the comment that NR had "engaged well with stakeholders". We are looking forward to being kept abreast of the progress of CP6 plans once they are 'in the pipeline' as promised by NR at the Transport Scotland Rail Infrastructure Strategy Workshop in Glasgow in April.
We are particularly pleased to see a requirement for freight growth of 7.5% by the end of CP6. Currently the only freight being carried on the FNL is pipes for Subsea 7. There is an issue with the length and number of passing loops on this line, and the Highland Main Line, which needs to be addressed. There is however some ambiguity around the question of how much of this 7.5% requirement is new business. Different descriptions appear in the Annex at 3.1:
"Network Rail is required to ensure that 7.5% of that growth [of 7.5%] is new business" and later, "at least 7.5% of the final net freight tonnage must be product new to rail during CP6".
There are various references throughout the document to differences between the way NR relates to the UK Government and the Scottish Government. Whilst we are aware that the present SoS does not wish to remove the anomaly that the Scottish rail infrastructure provider is accountable to the DfT rather than the Scottish Government, we feel that this will need to be revisited. We think it is unnecessarily difficult, in terms of the management of large projects, for the provider to be accountable to the funder through an intermediary. Scottish timetabling was caught up in the débâcle in May 2018 and has had some improvements deferred because of it. This would not have been the case if NR Scotland Route had been set up as an autonomous entity.