FoFNL member, Keith Farr, highly respected in railway circles as one of the two authors of Railway Magazine's "Practice & Performance" feature, was not impressed by the Nicky Marr column from SPP Media Group newspapers which we obtained permission to reprint in our May issue.
To be fair to Ms Marr, she does not pretend to be a railway correspondent, and writes on many subjects based on her day-to-day experiences; also this piece does reflect the way passengers, with no other interest in railways, see things - something that ScotRail et al should always bear in mind. Keith has put her article under an analytical spotlight and makes some very relevant comments though, so I hope any MSPs reading this read through to the end!
In Issue 77 , Nicky Marr asks for 'faster trains' between Edinburgh and Inverness. The trains themselves are already fast: 125 mph by the London - Inverness 'Highland Chieftain' and by the newly-introduced 'posh' trains that she seems to welcome but considers inadequate for the job. Even the Class 170 units that have been on the route for 20 years or more are capable of travelling at 100 mph. It is the infrastructure that needs further improvement.
Despite upgrades, 87 of the 118 miles between Perth and Inverness are single line and most of it is restricted to 75-85 mph, chiefly because of curvature. When I first travelled north by one of the principal trains, the 10.00 from Glasgow, it was due at Inverness at 3.31 pm. Perth - Inverness used to take between 3½-4 hours; now the journey time is two hours or a little more, depending on stops: commendable bearing in mind the mountainous terrain through which the railway passes, with Druimuachdar Summit 1,484ft above sea level.
Your correspondent's comparison between Edinburgh - Inverness and Edinburgh - London journey time cannot be serious. Of course the East Coast main line is faster: it is double or quadruple track the whole way; it is electrified; it serves numerous towns or cities with a total population many times that between Edinburgh and Inverness; in short, it is a profitable trunk route. Nor does it penetrate mountainous country of the type that Nicky Marr may have noticed characterises the line to Inverness.
Perhaps she would like to eliminate some of the intermediate stops. Some years ago, ScotRail put on a new early morning fast train from Inverness to Glasgow. There were howls of protest from Kingussie people because it wasn't going to stop there; yet, as it was a new service, they were going to lose nothing. They even saw it as a precursor to the closure of Kingussie station.
In the end, ScotRail gave in and put in a Kingussie stop.
The time-consuming section today is Edinburgh - Perth: in January 1970, the direct route via Glenfarg was closed, not because there was a case for closure but because the UK government wanted to build a motorway and the railway was in the way. So trains now have to wander round Fife, serving Kirkcaldy, before they eventually reach Perth.
The same mind-set still prevails: despite its claims of concern about the environment, the Scottish Government is spending billions on widening the Perth - Invemess A9 road but penny numbers funnelled into fettling up the railway.
The Scottish Government allegedly aims to improve the environment. Spending billions on 'improving' the A9 and thus encouraging more people to use it will not achieve this. Nor, as is claimed, will it make it safer. Maniacs who exceed the speed limits now will continue to do so. It would surely cost much less to electrify the railway and enforce speed limits on the existing road.
Editor's note: Average speed cameras have already been installed on the A9 between Perth and Inverness.