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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

Invernet Gets Off To Flying Start

The new Invernet service of two hourly trains between Tain and Inverness got off to a flying start this week courtesy of ROAD works!

Congestion on the A9 at North Kessock, where a grade-separated junction is being built over the next five months, was caused by carriage restrictions and contraflows. This badly affected scheduled bus timings as well as all other traffic.

There were no such "carriage restrictions" on the railway where First ScotRail is suddenly awash with shiny new rolling stock provided by the Scottish Executive. The new service frequency and attractive fares on offer proved a big hit with passengers who flocked to the trains in droves. At Muir of Ord, which used to be a major droving hub, history was repeating itself this time with people rather than cattle!

Former car drivers expressed delight at how easy it was to get in to the centre of the City of Inverness by rail without the stress of trying to find a parking place within half a mile or more. Bus passengers expressed their satisfaction with the extra legroom and comfort of the new rolling stock. "It beats the bus any day" they said.

Sadly, we are forced to admit that this press release could not be issued as the refranchising process for ScotRail caused Invernet to slip by one year and it will not now be introduced until December 2005/January 2006. What a missed opportunity!

But hold on a minute, we thought. The train paths are in place, the extra unit has been identified, such that if ScotRail could find crews and we could get funding, could something still be managed? The idea of asking the Scottish Executive if they would fully fund an alternative rail service out of their trunk roads budget had a certain appeal. Our MSPs would surely put this idea forward.

We decided we had better ask ScotRail first and that is where the idea came unstuck. They don't have any spare crews and they don't have the 158 unit yet. Nor could one of the 150s currently being relinquished, as each new 170 is delivered, be held back. Inverness drivers are not trained on 150s, but maybe a 150 could have covered for a central Scotland 158 diagram just for the five months?

Our suggestion was to run the 12.18 to Invergordon, the 14.32 to Tain and maybe the 16.53 to Tain to give a much better spread of trains throughout the working day. We also suggested that a similar service should run on Black Isle Show day in August. Sadly, the railway yet again demonstrated its inflexibility. It takes a whole year to train crews! We wonder just what is in the new franchise agreement? Surely there should be some scope to respond more quickly to sudden changes in circumstances? Despite the new Freedom of Information Act, it is unlikely we will ever know details of the franchise bids because of "commercial confidentiality" clauses. It is hard to see that these restrictions are really in the public interest. Public money is being spent and yet the public is denied any democratic way of verifying the Minister's claim that the franchise is "a good deal" for Scotland. There must be a better way of getting the railways equipped and moving to meet Scotland's needs.

Richard Ardern