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

Letter To The Editor

Your critics are a touch hard. I for one welcome each issue and am fascinated as I am grateful; the Friends have achieved much, and for every critic I am sure there are many quietly satisfied that some of the original aims have been met but know there will always be more to be done.

It is indeed unfortunate that the direct Dornoch scheme has been so divisive. Brian Balmain may be correct in stating that many have expressed support; but those whose judgement I more respect have concluded that it is not really practical. In any sensible social balance sheet, it yields extraordinarily poor value. Yes, had it been achieved when the road bridge was built, that might have been different. Spending tens of millions today, and still expecting the Lairg route, with its renewed oil traffic, postbus connections and substantial youth hostel business, separately to be maintained is no more reasonable than saying all three rail routes east of Elgin should of course be returned to the railway map. Having an hourly service from Aberdeen to Inverness is infinitely more practical and gives far better value, indeed even helping passengers to and from the North line.

Daniel Brittain-Catlin is also harsh in saying you don't seem to have a clear set of aims, though it might now be reasonable to publish a clarified set. Might I suggest the following might be included:

  1. Encouraging more passengers. That is wide-ranging, including making more trips ourselves and persuading friends and visitors to do so, but could specifically include,
  2. A time-tabling campaign. Though train times are well displayed at stations, a mini poster for window display would draw more people's attention even to the existence of the railway as an attractive alternative to driving. Such a mini-poster could include postbus connections times. ScotRail could be encouraged to ask staff to remember such connections. On my last trip north, two postbuses were waiting at Lairg. Nowhere were they advertised or mentioned.
  3. There is no booking office between Dingwall and Wick/Thurso. Elsewhere in Britain (Saxmunden being a good example) there are travel agents actively selling railway tickets and answering enquiries. Could we help persuade someone to step in?
  4. Presuming the Sunday train does well, no doubt the aim of a fourth Friday (evening) train will not be forgotten.
  5. Tour trains that were once frequent now rarely go north from Dingwall, and serious efforts should be made to have the North line included in itineraries. It is too frequently and unfairly dismissed as very second rate to the Kyle route.

David St. John Thomas