The Parliamentary Questions section of Far North Express is normally given without comment - not least in order to maintain our politically neutral status as campaigners. I'm going to make an exception on this occasion because the two exchanges printed on pages 18 and 19 illustrate the problems of both rail campaigners and party politicians.
In the background is a reluctance to hint at giving any ground in relation to reducing the roads programme. The Deputy First Minister said that recent work to improve the Highland Main Line is part of a "balanced package". In fact, the HML is getting slower. In the new timetable, the longest journey time from Inverness to Edinburgh has increased to 3 hours 46 minutes . This is a whole hour longer than the 2 hours 45 minutes promised by Alex Salmond in 2008 for the fastest services. He also stated that by 2012 the average journey time would be only 3 hours. Under current Government Policy, achieving this promise will have been delayed by 13 years to 2025.
On the subject of freight The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity said on 12 June, "We will continue to do everything that we can to encourage commercial businesses to make use of the rail freight options that are available to them." This ignores the fact that until there is better infrastructure to allow more freight paths and longer trains, the options available are very limited. This applies to all the single track railways in Scotland. It is revealing that he also felt it necessary to say that he did "not know whether it is now official Labour Party policy to cut the roads budget and transfer that money to rail instead" and "I suspect that, in later questions, members will also ask me to make more investment in roads." As mentioned elsewhere in this edition, we were delighted to hear the First Minister, on 5 September, rise to the challenge to "be bold in the Climate Emergency and take funds out of new, big, roads projects and invest them in public transport instead".
The reason we never stop talking about the single-track HML is that many of our northbound services are directly affected by holding departures from Inverness, particularly the 18:31, to wait for late-running trains from the south. If the HML was mostly double-track this would cease to be a problem. We have to get the message across: Main lines linking important cities in Scotland must not remain single track.