Report of the Annual General Meeting, 2001
The A.G.M of the Friends of the Far North Line took place on 3rd November in Beauly. The hope had been to give members the opportunity to sample the new Beauly Station by travelling to Dingwall for lunch, returning in time for the meeting. Chairman John Melling announced a few changes to the programme, item 6 was not necessary as the President and Vice-President had been elected last year to serve for a term of 4 years and our second speaker, Graham Meiklejohn, E.W.S had had to call off due to a family bereavement. Frank Roach had been asked to stand in and present a brief up date on the current freight situation.
Presidential Address - Lord Maclennan Of Rogart
Opening his Presidential Address Lord MacLennan of Rogart said this had been a good year for the Far North Line. On Railway privatisation he said that in the last 4 years of Conservative government and in the first 4 years of Labour government neither had completely grappled with the people's expectations for the railways.
Commenting on the wider national scene Lord MacLennan said it had to be admitted that Railtrack had suffered from the beginning from the dogmatic view that the railway system might operate at a profit. This was not the case in France, Germany or Japan. He said that a great problem was that assets were not used throughout the 24 hours. In part the railway provides a social service. Government has to be the provider of last resort.
There were advantages and disadvantages in the Secretary of State's proposal to replace Railtrack with a new kind of company. It appeared to have been advocated because of Treasury reluctance to provide money. Secondly the suggestion of a Board of 40 members including representatives of the railway operating companies and unions would lead to confusion. Railtrack needs clear accountability and authority and to know where the buck stops. The Cullen Report had demonstrated no clarity of individual responsibility for safety. The downturn in the economy made investment decisions more difficult. Whilst the Secretary of State was right to pull the plug on Railtrack he said it was important that managers of the railway now had time to determine priorities for the future.
Lord MacLennan regretted that not sufficient able managers and skilled drivers were being recruited. He said this would continue until there is a clear framework for the railway which people feel will last.
Some of the requirements imposed by the Rail Regulator had imposed further costs on train operators.
Another issue was whether government was right to focus on rail track maintenance to the exclusion of new projects. There was talk of 'special vehicles' to finance new projects which would help large schemes. This could leave the 'social railway' vunerable.
Lord MacLennan concluded saying this was a time of flux for the railways. There needs to be time for a debate leading to consensus on a settlement for rail. Managers and operators would then know how they could work forward.
Lord MacLennan warmly congratulated the Friends of The Far North Line for their achievements in advancing the use of the line - a valuable line both to many people in the area and in taking freight off the road, he said.
85 passengers have travelled north from Inverness on the new 18.30 Sunday train on 28th October. The Chairman, John Melling said uptake had been good throughout October on both this service and the Sunday afternoon southbound train. This together with consolidation on the Tain - Inverness morning commuter train, the anticipated opening of Beauly station and more freight coming on stream augured well for the line he said.
Friends of The Far North Line membership has risen to 176, the second highest ever. FoFNL had distributed its own publicity of the Sunday trains to shops, offices and hotels in 7 townships along the line.
John Melling outlined hopes for the future - more freight - more trains for Easter Ross - an enlarged membership, including amongst rail travellers - fuller contact with Community Councils - track improvements and a commitment to stations for Conon Bridge and Halkirk.
Speech by Bill Ure, Secretary Rail Passenger Committee, Scotland
Mr Ure, Secretary to the Rail Passenger Committee for Scotland (RPC) outlined the committee functions as protecting and promoting the interests of passengers, bringing influence to bear on train operating companies liasing with the rail regulator and handling complaints.
The committee holds statutory meetings in public each quarter and has a summit with MSPs and the Rail Companies annually. The members are representative by geographical locality, age, sex, and background. A system of local voluntary reporters is backed by a website for comment so that when the committee replies to a Scottish Executive consultation it can draw on 1800 views.
Key issues are capacity and performance of trains. Where there is overcrowding more rolling stock or lengthened platforms are needed. He said punctuality and reliability of trains is not as it should be.
In considering issues the committee values the work of the Friends of The Far North Line and the Highland Rail Partnership. In areas where there is not a local group the committee itself takes a fuller part in identifying needs. The passengers interest was at the heart of its work.
The RPC has offered guiding principles on the future of Railtrack to Sarah Boyack, Scottish Minister of Transport. Railway costs could be saved within Scotland if companies pooled administrative support functions such as Personnel Departments, but these should be dependant on savings being redistributed to improve the railway within Scotland. He said the Executive should look at the total funds for rail coming to Scotland with particular reference to costs transferred back to the headquarters of companies in England.
Vertical integration within the rail industry was not viewed with favour. The freight companies which operated across the UK wanted to relate to a national Railtrack organisation.
In Scotland many of the projects proposed for development are relatively small. It was important that these did not get sidelined for larger schemes in the south. A way should be found to liberate such projects of Whitehall control.
Bill Ure had written a paper on Scottish Intercity services advocating the separation of local services from non-stop expresses on routes such as Inverness - Perth. Whilst the 170 trains were acceptable now, he said we needed to look 10-20 years ahead with a new generation of trains to hold passengers.
Frank Roach then addressed the meeting giving a description of the freight scene during the past 12 months.
This was followed by a lively question and answer session.
|Balance at beginning of year
|Highland Rail Partnership
|Video stock purchase
|Tain Commuter publicity
|Less: Tax Charge