An important part of FoFNL's work is to issue press releases to stimulate discussion, and hopefully resolution, of issues that arise.
This year so far we have issued three Press Releases, which we reproduce here. As this magazine is distributed widely around the Scottish rail industry, government and press, we also hope that publishing them here will serve as a reminder to those able to help resolve the problems mentioned.
Wednesday 18th April 2018
Last week Royal Mail announced that it is to vacate its site in Strothers Lane, west of Inverness Railway Station. This releases the land between the present bus station and the railway station, allowing the construction of a new interchange by relocating the bus station to be next to the railway station.
The Friends of the Far North Line campaigns for improvements for travellers using the railway between Inverness and Thurso/Wick, and onwards to Orkney. A frequent element of our campaigning concerns the lack of easy inter modal interchange which sometimes makes travelling by public transport unattractive. At a time when there is general agreement of the need to reduce road traffic, by encouraging the switch to public transport, this is an ideal opportunity to radically improve the interchange facilities in the Highland Capital. This is something of benefit to travellers and to the city itself which now has the chance to show a lead in Scotland.
It would be tragic for Inverness to miss this chance. We hope that The Highland Council will appreciate the tremendous possibilities which Royal Mail's decision offers and make rapid moves to bring about a successful redevelopment of the land beside the railway station so that passengers can transfer between buses and trains in comfort.
Tuesday 22nd May 2018
The Friends of the Far North Line are delighted to see that, as a result of Richard Lochhead MSP's comments reported in the Press & Journal on Monday 21 May, a Virgin Trains East Coast spokesman has expressed support for ScotRail's efforts to work with Transport Scotland to resolve a timetabling anomaly which has a train from Inverness to Moray and Aberdeen leaving at 20:04, the same time as the VTEC "Highland Chieftain" service from London arrives in Inverness, thus denying onward travellers a connection.
Whilst we naturally applaud all attempts to improve connections for passengers, we feel this is an ideal opportunity also to take permanent action on the connection from the 06:14 from Ardgay which arrives in Inverness at 07:43, allowing 12 minutes for onward travellers to board the 07:55 "Highland Chieftain" to King's Cross.
On the face of it a 12 minute connection is relatively safe; the truth of the matter, however, is that on arrival at Inverness, passengers have a fair distance to cover with their luggage to get to the London departure platform at the other side of the station. Add to this the fact that the Far North Line is single track*, and therefore prone to delay, and it is easy to see why prospective passengers from north of Inverness don't risk the train but drive down to Inverness.
This is a very undesirable outcome for the railways as, although the services are provided by different operating companies, one would expect that all efforts would be made to maintain the connection. Unfortunately, VTEC has been unwilling to hold the departure of the "Highland Chieftain" even for 5 minutes.
We very much hope that Transport Scotland, ScotRail and VTEC or their successors, are able to work out a solution to these issues for the benefit of passengers. In the case of the southbound morning services, if it is not possible to change any of the train times, an agreement to hold departures for a few minutes to maintain connections would be very helpful.*The building of the Lentran Loop, for which FoFNL has been campaigning for a long time, would also help to make this a more reliable connection.
Friday 4th August 2018
Issued jointly with Transform Scotland and the Rail Freight GroupThe Scottish Government has failed to deliver on a promise made 10 years ago by the then First Minister to slash train journey times from Inverness to
Edinburgh and Glasgow, say rail campaigners. To mark the 10th anniversary of the public commitment  to cut 35 minutes from the average journey time by 2012, rail and environmental campaigners highlight that an average of just four minutes' time saving has been achieved to date, leaving the largely single-track  Highland Main Line from Perth to Inverness struggling to compete with the £3bn upgrade of the parallel A9 road.
Paul Tetlaw, of Transform Scotland, the sustainable transport alliance , commented:
"In 2008, then First Minister Alex Salmond said that within four years the rail journey time would be cut to two hours forty-five minutes, but a decade later it remains on average around three and a half hours - yet A9 journeys are getting faster and faster as road dualling advances. The public were told that there would be additional rail passing loops and double-tracking, but all that is being delivered is resignalling of two crossing loops. Hourly passenger trains and an average journey time saving of 10 minutes are promised but with no additional track it's highly likely we'll see more delays and cancellations as more trains are squeezed onto the single track railway. Lessons need to be learned from the Borders Railway where de-scoping has created long single track sections which has led to poor performance. That's the nature of a single track railway. The Scottish Government now needs to deliver on its promises with serious investment made in the railway to ensure there is a level playing field between road and rail."
Ian Budd from rail campaign group, the Friends of the Far North Line , said:
"The Highland Main Line is key to the whole regional rail network. Slow journey times and unreliability between Perth and Inverness have a knock-on impact on connecting trains to the Far North Line, Kyle and Elgin, and discourage people from switching from car to train. Rail travellers are entitled to see the Scottish Government deliver on its manifesto promises and make the step-change improvements which Alex Salmond announced 10 years ago. What we have at the moment in no way equates with the government's stated transport policy."
David Spaven from the Rail Freight Group  commented:
"Everyone wants to see fewer 44-tonne trucks on the A9, but the current very limited upgrade to the Highland Main Line offers little or nothing for rail freight . Indeed the worry now is that rather than freight shifting from road to rail - the Scottish Government's policy objective - we will see the loss of existing rail traffics, as the A9 gets faster and the single-track railway becomes increasingly congested. That's economic and environmental madness. We need longer crossing loops, so that freight trains 40% longer than at present can compete much more effectively with road hauliers ."
The groups are looking to see firm, committed plans for doubling and electrification of the Highland Main Line as part of the Scottish Government's newly-commenced 'Strategic Transport Projects Review' (STPR2). The original review, which reported in December 2008, concluded that investment in the Highland Main Line should be one of the three highest-priority investment priorities for the country -- which makes the subsequent lack of investment all the more unacceptable. 
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
 As quoted in The Herald on 6 August 2008, First Minister Alex Salmond, in front of an audience of more than 100 in Inverness Town House, following a Cabinet Meeting, said:
"Railways must at least compete with the roads . . . Work being negotiated with Network Rail will cut journey times [from Edinburgh to Inverness] to two hours 45 minutes - 35 minutes less than at present. This at least makes railway travel to the heart of the Highlands, in terms of time, competitive with roads. The railway journey times will be cut by a mixture of projects including line improvement, additional passing loops, double-tracking and signalling upgrades. They will cost £54.5m and the timescale for implementation is 2011-2012".
 Two-thirds of the 118-mile Highland Main Line is single-track (with nine crossing loops). The parallel A9 is entirely dual-lane or dual-carriageway.
 Transform Scotland is the national alliance for sustainable transport, bringing together organisations from the private, public and voluntary sectors. Transform Scotland has been running its 'Inter-City Express' campaign for the past few years. http://intercityexpress.transformscotland.org.uk/
 FoFNL is the campaign group for better passenger and freight services on the Far North Line which links Orkney with Inverness and points south. http://www.fofnl.org.uk
 The Rail Freight Group represents users and suppliers of rail freight throughout Britain. David Spaven is its Scottish Representative. http://www.rfg.org.uk
 The crossing loops at Aviemore and Pitlochry are being resignalled, with the loop at Aviemore lengthened - but the capacity of both loops will be taken up all day by a new hourly passenger service frequency.
 The Class 66 locomotives which haul the daily Stobart / Tesco container train from Central Scotland to Inverness have enough power to pull a train of 28 containers - the equivalent of 28 lorries - but the lack of long crossing loops restricts the operation to just 20 containers.
 The Scottish Government's 'Strategic Transport Projects Review' in 2008 identified upgrading the HML as the third-top priority among 29 schemes across Scotland. Investment of between £200m and £450m was envisaged, including 'additional loops, dynamic loops or lengthening of double track sections'.
On 21st August Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, organised a meeting in Perth which became an unofficial follow-up to the press release. Alex Hynes, MD of the ScotRail Alliance, and Phil Matthews, Chair of Transform Scotland, addressed the meeting and a discussion about the railways to Perth, and the station itself, followed.
This was a particularly useful forum as there were representatives of Perth & Kinross Council, Perth City Development Board - including members from BT Connect and Stagecoach, Tactran, Inverness Chamber of Commerce, Rail Freight Group and FoFNL. Also present was Charles Gallagher, a Deputy Lieutenant of Perth and Kinross.