This year's AGM & Conference took place on 21 June in the Royal Marine Hotel, Brora.
The weather was kind and the venue was good. However, the number of attendees was disappointing. I suspect that was due to the difficulty involved in getting to Brora and back in a day from many places in Scotland. Fortunately several of our members from far away southern parts did manage to be there! The AGM business was carried out first - the minutes are online. Since Malcolm Wood demitted office as Secretary at the AGM we now have a vacancy on the committee and no Secretary.
At the Conference we had five excellent guest speakers as well as Frank Roach from HITRANS who, fortunately for us, is a fixture at every AGM. Alice Gillman, Head of Marketing at Vivarail - a last-minute attendee, also gave an enthusiastic pitch for Vivarail's battery train to be given a chance to provide a new shuttle service between Thurso and Wick for a trial period - ideal for this unit and a current aspiration of FoFNL.
The Conference began with an entertaining welcome speech from our President, Jamie Stone MP. He spoke about his own long-standing interest in railways as well as giving us a glimpse of what life is like for a brand new Westminster MP.
Bill Reeve, Director of Rail, Transport Scotland, was our first guest speaker. He expressed much satisfaction with the success of the Far North Line Review Team, which met for the final time on 1 February. He listed the many initiatives now coming to fruition and hinted that the bigger things we are hoping for (e.g. the Lentran Loop) are on the way. Indeed Bill's opening remark to me on arrival was, "I'm suffering from a sense of optimism!"
Bill was followed by Sir Peter Hendy, Chairman of Network Rail, who continued in the same optimistic vein. He expressed admiration for the way the railway is run in Scotland, with an intelligent client (Transport Scotland) delivering the Scottish Government's rail policy. Summing up, he said that the notion of any future threat of closure of the Far North Line is inconceivable. This prompted a sotto voce "David Spaven, please note" from Bill Reeve, referring, I suspect, to one of David's closing remarks in Highland Survivor!
The third speaker was David Shirres, Editor of Rail Engineer. His brief was to talk about trains beyond the end of diesels. He gave an excellent presentation covering other forms of propulsion currently under development, referencing Vivarail's battery train and the hydrogen-powered train built by Alstom. As he said, all future trains will be electric and the motors will not care where their power comes from.
After lunch we had a summary by Frank Roach of the current work of HITRANS, including plans for a sleeper service from Caithness to the Central Belt, which is now in urgent need of political support - MSPs and Councillors etc, please note!
Next in line was Scott Prentice, Head of Business Development, ScotRail. Not obvious from his job title is that he is responsible for designing service patterns and is currently working on a completely new way of organising FNL services. This will take a while and depends on the Scottish Government agreeing to fund certain enhancements (e.g. the Lentran Loop). It is an exciting prospect, aiming to give as much of a regular 'clock-face' service as possible.
The last speaker was chosen to fulfil my current wish to have one speaker not from the rail industry. In Brora it was Dr Nick Lindsay, Chairman of the Clyne Heritage Trust which is all about the history of the Brora area. Dr Lindsay's talk was fascinating and I for one now wish to return to Brora and have a good look round the village and its heritage centre!
In the light of the only complaint I received about the day, I would like to assure members that tea and coffee will always be provided in future. Although the Brora venue's charge for this would have been astonishingly high I feel it was a saving too far.
David Shirres' and Scott Prentice's slides are available online at www.fofnl.org.uk/archives/AGM2019/2019slides.php
David also gave us some superb extra publicity in the editorial of July's Rail Engineer which is available to view on the same page.