scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

This letter was sent to each of the franchise bidders

Dear Franchise Bidder,
As a leading rail campaigning group in Scotland we would like to communicate some of our ideas for the development of services on the Inverness-Wick route. The PSR affected services as follows:

1. Loss of fourth daily train (Summer only); loss of Inverness-Tain-Inverness service (all year round).

2. The PSR's minimum journey time to Wick rubber-stamped the decision of ScotRail to cease the arrangement whereby summer trains split for Wick and Thurso at Georgemas, and in the winter trains reached the termini either by alternate through train or by shuttle from Georgemas. The end journey time to Wick increased by 25 minutes.

3. No OPRAF funding for the Tain Commuter Service, which had got to the stage of the draft timetable.

4. No specified period for the Summer Sunday trains.

In the first franchise period there are opportunities for increasing revenue:

1. The Tain Commuter Service, arriving in Inverness by 8.45 would provide a much needed travel opportunity for the increasingly large number of people in Easter Ross travelling to the Highland capital for work and education. The current first arrival from the line is 10.10. The unit would then form the first train to Kyle, allowing a connection with the incoming sleeper: Euston to Skye! The Friends have raised with the relevant bodies the reopening of Beauly, Conon Bridge and Evanton stations.

2. Reinstatement of the fourth summer train with splitting at Georgemas.

3. Through working. This was identified in the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Rail Report 1995 and suggested savings by looking at through Aberdeen-Wick services.

4. Sunday all year round trains. Whilst this is not covered currently by OPRAF subsidy, there is a demand for one train in each direction, enabling students and those working away to return south and to facilitate leisure travel north.

5. Fares require review. The current Highland Railcard fares to and from Inverness are reasonable, but demand for intermediate travel e.g. Helmsdale-Golspie and Tain-Dingwall must be created with a more adventurous pricing policy.

6. The Highland Rail Network Development Partnership, established after the Friends' October 1995 Conference, commissioned an Infrastructure Report, listing the options for reducing journey times, a crucial factor in the line's development. For comparatively small sums 20 minutes can be taken off the time to Thurso, but Railtrack's performance regime may not be helpful.

The line is not just a tourist line. 60% of its users are local. It is vital for the new operator to build on this level of local support. The new operator will have the support and expertise of the Friends in achieving this objective. If you wish to further discuss any points above, please do not hesitate to get in touch.