2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the forming of FoFNL so It would be nice to begin the year with great news about the Far North Line. However, we are simply waiting, optimistically it has to be said, for the decisions about future improvements to be announced. By the time of the next Headcode we will know what we have to look forward to - at the very least, we hope, the installation of a passing loop at Lentran...
Our line relies heavily on the railways from the other side of Inverness so I make no apology for emphasising the need for the Scottish Government to get a grip on upgrading the HML in this issue. Single track railways don't work unless there is very little traffic and a large number of passing loops. September's derailment of a freight train after hitting fallen branches at Culloden Viaduct caused massive delays. As the P&J noted "DERAILED: only a single line over the viaduct - so this incident held up all the trains". Remarkably, Inverness is still only served by predominantly single track railways.
It's quite difficult not to lose patience with politicians. In Scotland we have the Scottish Government saying one thing and doing another. Stated policy is to encourage modal shift to help reduce pollution and the wastage of fuel but the practice is to prioritise road building and upgrading. As Liam Kirkaldy recently wrote in Holyrood Magazine, quoting the Green Party, "Stop the ministerial obsession with car use and move to active travel and public transport."
Meanwhile from Westminster and the unionist parties in Holyrood we have opposition to the devolution of Network Rail Scotland Route, in the face of, probably, the unanimous wishes of the Scottish rail industry. Presumably this is because the thought triggers in some a feeling of pandering to Scottish self-government. FoFNL has written to all MSPs to ask them to please put aside such 'political' thoughts and support this for practical reasons.
FoFNL is a politically agnostic organisation, all our suggestions are based on common sense. Unfortunately we're living in a time (temporarily I hope) in which common sense has become unfashionable.
The Far North Line's punctuality and cancellation rate in the last few months has fluctuated between mixed and appalling, although it is now showing signs of improvement. There are in fact a couple of reasons for this which have put ScotRail in a no-win situation. Late delivery of stock, both from Hitachi and Wabtec, has caused training difficulties all over Scotland. Not only were the trains not available in time to train crews for the December timetable, but additional factors came into play, particularly the unexpected need to train them for operating slam-door stock ('Classic HSTs for the Inter7City services) and a temporary fleet of Class 365 units for the Central Belt. The timing of an overtime and rest day working ban by the rail union RMT exacerbated an already impossible situation. In its public handling of this ScotRail may have been the victim of software developers' love of 'drop-down lists' - the guess being that the only option available in the system to explain cancellations was "crew shortage" - which made it look as though ScotRail was not employing enough staff to run the services! A rather public foot-shooting.