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

1998 Annual General Meeting

Held in the Mansfield House Hotel, Tain, Saturday 7th November.

Chairman of the Friends, John Melling, welcomed the two guest speakers, Nigel Wunsch, Railtrack Scotland and Frank Roach, North Highland Railway Development Officer.

Talk by Nigel Wunsch

Nigel Wunsch commenced by stating that Railtrack Scotland's remit is the stewardship of the rail infrastructure and they recognise the need to take what is best in our heritage and build on that to prepare for the next 100 years of rail. Railtrack Scotland is committed to the growth of rail in the Far North with the broad objectives of more and faster trains. It was seeking government partnership in investigating what improvements can be made to make this rail service increasingly relevant and useful to as many lineside communities as possible. With ScotRail reporting a 10% increase in passenger journey numbers in what is considered a poor year for tourism then he considered that there were many good years to come.

Nigel went on to report that they are prepared to investigate ways of funding schemes which offer enough social benefit. Together with ScotRail they are looking at signalling improvements that may give 5 - 6 minutes journey time improvement. They are committed to spending £200,000 on the upgrading of the current signalling at Georgemas Junction. Whilst the initial plans for the reopening of Beauly Station looked too expensive they have approached the Health and Safety Executive with an idea that might provide a viable solution. The Radio Electronic Token Block signalling equipment is under review and improved maintenance of the existing infrastructure is providing benefits.

Nigel was very positive about the necessity for maintaining the partnership approach with everything to do with the Community. They were very encouraged by the positive responses to the recent consultation sessions discovering that by explaining the constraints behind some of their decisions meant that there was more consensus than criticism. The improvement in freight services formed the next part of the presentation with reference to the re-gauging of the Killiecrankie Tunnel allowing EWS to be very proactive in seeking freight opportunities. The increase of freight traffic of 16% had been one of Scotland's success stories compared with an average of 5% in the UK. Reference was made to the other freight opportunities that are gradually being developed. Finally reference was made to the Station Regeneration Programme with £1.7 million being allocated to northern stations, of which £0.5 million will be spent at Wick and Thurso to prepare them for their 125th birthday year. Inverness station is also to receive £1.7 million for a major regeneration. Measures to improve disabled access were being considered with Muir of Ord being currently investigated.

A brief question and answer session followed where the thorny subject of station shelters was brought up. Nigel's response referred to the problems of vandalism as the shelters often attracted the wrong sort of attention.

Talk by Frank Roach

With time at a premium attention focused on Frank Roach who had been invited to tell us about "His role and achievements in 1998"

On the subject of Passenger marketing it was becoming increasingly important to make the re-opening of Beauly a success so that it provide a test case for many communities throughout the country. Muir of Ord has become the success story in the Dingwall Commuter train introduction with significant numbers of passengers using that station. Frank was very pleased with the success of the Travelling Classroom with the Transport Police reporting significant reductions in cases of vandalism. One interesting statistic that was emerging was that 80% of the children had never been on a train and were probably the first members of their immediate family to have been on a train.

Frank reminded us of his achievements in the improvement in the freight situation and was extremely coy on one particular development that he is currently working on! A siding at Invergordon was at the planning stage and tonnage was now going into Fearn as well as out. On the downside he had to report that developments at Georgemas were virtually non-existent and very disappointing. Of all his activities he felt that the Heritage remit was going to be the most difficult in which to achieve success. The Steam train excursions had financially broken even generating a lot of lineside interest but no income. He is formulating plans for the celebrations of the 125th Anniversary of the opening of the Wick and Thurso branches, it being hoped to have a Class 66 locomotive take part with the naming of a unit. A photographic exhibition is also planned.

There then followed a question and answer session with Nigel Wunsch assisting with the answers. The subject of moving rubbish by rail was discussed the idea being to locate mini-compactors at railhead locations for movement to the new Highland-wide rubbish incinerator that is planned for Inverness. Frank Roach was able to confirm that he would be meeting with the Highland Council's Director of Protective Services to discuss the possibilities of moving rubbish by rail. The movement of rubbish was then followed by a discussion of moving livestock by rail. Sales are still held throughout our area at places like Forsinard, Lairg and Dingwall which owe their existence to being originally at suitable railheads. It was felt that this was a consideration for the future but one that could gain momentum given the driving restriction faced by the long distance hauliers.

Business at the Annual General Meeting

Our President, Robert MacLennan had tendered his apologies as Parliamentary business had forced him, late in the day, to remain in London.

In his Report the Chairman, John Melling, said 1998 had been marked by two events, the appointment of the founder secretary, Frank Roach, as North Highland Railway Development Officer, and the introduction of the morning Dingwall - Inverness commuter train.

He said that Keith Tyler had ably taken over the role of Secretary. The committee had met on five occasions and was working coherently. A watch had been kept on passenger and freight development. The lifting of the speed restriction at Fearn Crossings, the proposal for a station at Beauly and the Georgemas Plunger were positive signs. Individual committee members had encouraged the hire of cycles, criticised the Inverness Cross Rail Link proposal, developed a dialogue with Railtrack over line improvement with reduced journey times, and represented the Society on the Highland Rail Network Partnership. Roger Piercy had developed the newsletter. Improvements were being made to the membership system.

He saw three challenges in the year ahead - improved end to end passenger timings but compatible with service developments at the Inverness end of the line, the provision of a Freight Terminal in Caithness and the implementation of integrated bus to rail transport links. He concluded by thanking the committee for their hard work over the year.

The Treasurer presented his report for the year ending 31st March 1998, a summary of which is shown below. Frank Spaven, in his capacity as Vice President then took the chair for the election of Office Bearers, which proceeded very smoothly with the re-election of the existing holders. In the ballot for two committee members John More and Roger Piercy were elected to continue for a further year.

Financial Statement - year ended 31st March 1999
  1998 1997
  £ £
Computer 623 831
Current Account 2295 2278
  2918 3109
Surplus/(Deficit) (191) 487
Subscriptions 805 1216
Donations 144 126
Interest 68 48
Other - 40
  1017 1430
Highland Rail Partnership 300 -
Administration 460 625
Meeting Expenses 158 65
Other 82 253
Depreciation 208 -
  1208 943
Surplus/(Deficit) (191) 487