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

Report of the Annual General Meeting, 2000

The A.G.M. of the Friends of the Far North Line took place on 4th November in Tain. At the opening Vice President, Frank Spaven, compared remote Scandinavian railways with the Highlands. He stressed that experience showed that it was essential that the Government recognised the importance of the railway, were prepared to subsidise the lines, so long as the costs were kept to a minimum and that freight and tourists were essential.

Chairman, John Melling, reported membership was 164, including 15 Community Councils. The committee organised two meetings, at Brora and at Thurso, to further common interests with them. The most encouraging outcome has been in Easter Ross where our local committee member, Roger Piercy, enlisted the help of six Community Councils to distribute over 5000 leaflets marketing the new Tain Commuter train.

In his report John Melling emphasised that freight flow was the life blood which could assure the long term future for rural railways. On our own line it has been very encouraging to see the introduction of the daily Safeway freight train, not least due to the initiative of our President, Robert MacLennan MP and the work of the North Highland Railway Development Officer, Frank Roach.

On the passenger side he welcomed the shorter end to end journey times. The committee was engaged in an unsuccessful endeavour at Inverness to prevent planning permission for the commercial development of the MFI store site adjacent to the station, which might otherwise have provided bus stances within an integrated Transport Centre.

Much of the work of the committee has been advanced in association with others, most notably the Highland Railway Partnership, where recent attention has been given to a possible Highlands & Islands Transport Authority. Members have attended two of the four statutory meetings of the Rail Passengers Committee meetings - that in Inverness was particularly lively. The Chairman praised Railtrack for the speed with which the landslip on the Culloden Viaduct embankment was repaired.

He concluded by thanking the Committee for their hard work during an exciting year. The rail industry is in flux. Given commitment, knowledge and balance. FoFNL will continue to advance the case for rail in the north.

Reports were received from the Secretary and the Treasurer, presented in his absence by the Chairman, and a summary of the finances follow this report.

The business of electing of office bearers took place under the guiding hand of Frank Roach. Nominations had been received as follows; for Chairman; John Melling, for Secretary; Keith Tyler, for Treasurer; Ron Stevenson and for Membership Secretary; Angus Stewart. All nominees were elected to office. Nominations for Committee members were received from Roger Piercy and Stewart Campbell; both were duly elected. This concluded the business part of the meeting, and after a short break for tea the meeting moved onto the presentations.

Despite a difficult week for the railway, Alistair McPherson, Managing Director of ScotRail addressed the meeting.

Looking back over the 3 years of the ScotRail franchise he said there had been many improvements but he recognised there were ragged edges in the delivery of services. ScotRail had shortened journey times by introducing 158 trains on the Far North Line and Turbostars on the Inverness - Edinburgh service.

The Friends of The Far North Line were an effective users group to whom he looked for added local expertise. The Group should feel satisfaction over the introduction of improved end to end journey times, the Tain Commuter train and an expected early opening of a station at Beauly. He had responded to the passenger survey carried out by the Friends among Easter Ross commuters, and would be providing a 4 coach train on the 17.30 north from Inverness next summer. There would be an experiment with a new Sunday train from end to end in the autumn of 2001, to which the Chairman pointed out the need for this to be balanced by a later Friday evening service north.

A lively question and answer session followed during the time that Mr. McPherson could spare us before travelling South.

There was widespread appreciation that Mr. McPherson had come to the north at this time.

Next to address the meeting was Frank Roach who brought everyone up to date with his activities on furthering the use of the Far North Line and as was expected this also lead to an interesting discussion.