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

A lot is happening!

Welcome to the first newsletter of 1998.

The Annual General Meeting at Tain in November saw a big turn round in your committee. Both Harry Miller, founder Chairman and Ian Jamieson, founder Treasurer, retired - we owe a debt of gratitude to each of them. Newcomers to the committee are Ron Stevenson and Roger Piercy - Roger is our new Newsletter Editor, whilst John Moore returns. Frank Spaven continues as Membership Secretary and Jim Fry represents Caithness. Frank Roach was re-elected Hon. Secretary and I became Chairman in succession to Harry.

Within weeks Frank Roach was appointed Rail Development Officer for the lines radiating from Inverness by the Highland Rail Network Partnership. As the driving force of the Friends of the Far North Line he will be sorely missed, but we take heart that working to the same ends with greater resources at his command yet more can be achieved. At the meeting of 17th January the committee appointed Keith Tyler, Kinbrace Station as the new Secretary.

Monday 2nd March sees the inauguration of an experimental Dingwall - Inverness commuter train. Although FoFNL has long pressed for a morning service from Tain we are grateful to ScotRail for this initiative. The new service is backed by Highland Council and offers 10 journeys for £10. The run-in time for marketing is short. The advice of FoFNL on pricing and on a departure time from Dingwall no earlier than 8.00am has been accepted. An introductory leaflet supported by Ross and Cromarty Enterprise is being distributed to 5000 homes. However few publicity campaigns succeed at the first time of asking, especially now that so much paper comes through letterboxes. FOFNL believes that continued marketing is essential if ScotRail is to optimise traffic - we are ready to assist. Those in mid-Ross can play a special part in encouraging their neighbours to use the train. Further passenger service development on the North Line could hang on the success of the 8.00am from Dingwall. It's there to use!

Controversy has long surrounded a Dornoch Firth crossing. In 1991 a £12 million scheme (£20 million at today's prices) backed by Railway and the Council fell because the Scottish Office would not 'chip-in' which resulted in the loss of matching funds from Europe. That window of opportunity was lost. Today's climate is different - the government has a commercial relationship with Railtrack, and Railtrack with the train operators. Although subsidised, the Far North Line is on track for the future - freight has been reintroduced, passenger numbers hold up, and tourism is expanding. The Friends of the Far North Line aims to stimulate more growth. More traffic helps us argue for improvements - for increased speed at crossings, for a Georgemas chord, for improved services and for a rail freight reception/distribution hub in the north. There is no harm in dreaming: better to move forward step by step.

As we go to press the possibility of steam on the Far North Line later in the year is being investigated.

Watch out for further news.

John Melling