I joined the Friends of the Far North Line a couple of years ago, having moved to the Beauly area four years ago and I am a regular user of the train into Inverness. I started trainspotting in 1963 in Lewes in East Sussex and have never given up. I am at the present reading Highland Survivor by David Spaven.
Unfortunately, my wife has Parkinson's disease and attends singing and keep-fit classes in Inverness with other Parkinson sufferers. She was talking to other members of the class who visit Glasgow for various treatments and queried if they travel by train. She was surprised at the response, "God no, we all use coaches, which travel every hour, the trains are so unreliable and are often cancelled." If you have appointments, you cannot rely on the railways.
If the railways are to survive in Scotland, surely something has to be done to improve the service. The SNP wants to make Scotland green, but instead is making more of the A9 dual-carriageway, and ignoring the railway. The coach guarantees you a reserved seat while the train does not even guarantee you a seat at all, as my wife has experienced in the past. What a travesty that Scottish railways cannot even provide a service for its own people.
As an occasional user of the A9 I always look forward to assessing how the dualling project is progressing towards the projected completion date of 2025 as to my inexperienced eyes given the slow rate of progress 2025 is unlikely to be achieved and given the fiasco of some major civil constructions finishing late and going over budget one feels the same will happen with the A9. So, I was not surprised to find recently (September) that the only activity taking place was on the Bankfoot section north of Perth.
What has prompted me to put pen to paper was the startling revelation in FNE 78 that it is now public knowledge that the single section at Dunkeld is likely to account for almost 50% of the total projected cost of the project.
I am not a civil engineer, my initial career being in aeronautical engineering, I am though, interested in geography and geology of which the route of the A9 provides some very interesting examples. This leads to the question that if the Dunkeld section can cost so much how much will it be to build the Slochd and Carrbridge sections, to name just two. It is not rocket science to realise that, as I recently wrote in my letter to MPs, "They could abandon those sections leaving the road as a single carriageway and divert the funds saved into improving the entire rail structure north of Perth. Again it is a matter of applying the Pareto Principle to the costs involved in dualling. Eighty percent of the total cost of dualling will be absorbed by dualling the difficult parts whilst 20% is incurred on the simple parts."
Surely our northern MSPs will occasionally look out of the train window before they get to Aviemore and wonder just where the new carriageway is going to be routed. Even the sight of the rock drilling/soil sampling teams didn't give a great deal away.Just in case I was being too negative I decided to look at a few websites detailing the various aspects of the dualling only to discover that very few were up to date and one, www.roads.org.uk, showed that all sections were scheduled to have been started by now with 2019+ being the latest! Perhaps they are too embarrassed to show the latest situation.
So, where do we go from here? I am not advocating that we pursue their tardiness but to make good use of the fact and push for the realisation that matters are not going well and with the simple expedient of abandoning the difficult expensive sections and diverting the money to rail the Scottish Parliament would achieve a win- win situation. Rail users will be extremely happy. Road users will get some very useful sections of dual carriageway plus a saving in the major delays caused by driving through miles of roads works often frustrated by the apparent lack of effort being put into completion.
Roger also sent a copy of this letter to all the MSPs who work for his area, adding a paragraph asking that they do their best to encourage the diversion of funds from the A9 dualling budget to rail projects. He suggested this would not only result in significant benefits all round but would gain the respect of road and rail travellers for the governance of Scotland, a win-win situation.
Unfortunately, as John Finnie MSP (Green Party), one of our Vice Presidents, pointed out, "The Scottish Government and the three other opposition parties are all fully committed to those dualling projects."
He did receive a fairly supportive response, presumably because no MSP can fail to notice the eye-watering cost of widening an already fast road, or fail to realise how much railway infrastructure could be provided instead. On the evidence of those replies there does seem to be cross-party support for improving the Highland Main Line as well - this, as we frequently point out, is an urgent requirement for Scotland.