Railways are a business which demand a lot of patience and although we move forward, improvements seem to take a long time to happen.
With this issue of the newsletter you will find a photocopy of our first issue of ten years ago. It is interesting to see that many of the same issues are still being discussed but also that many have been implemented. A Highland Rail Partnership has been established; freight is back on the line; the Highland Railcard, services to Beauly, and the Tain commuter have all been very successful. We would claim that FoFNL advocacy has been a significant factor. However, Conon reopening and a Dornoch Link are still only possibilities for the future.
Three years ago, railway improvements had gained some momentum with a Government proposal to "lever" a lot of money out of the private sector. Now, costs have been allowed to get out of control and everything is being reviewed. The Strategic Rail Authority has retrenched and the queue of desirable schemes is growing longer. The Scottish Executive have been increasing their funding to help with rolling stock improvements and, thankfully, with Invernet, but health and safety issues have acted as a "brake" as for example at Beauly.
The Far North Line depends on connecting traffic from and to the south and the east. HIE's Value of Rail study has shown how this is increasing but also how traffic on the Aberdeen line is not reaching its potential because of the erratic frequency of services and dreadful connections to the north. It is a matter of great concern that proposals to increase capacity on that line have now been dragging on for ten years. Traffic south through Perth is growing fast enough to justify an hourly service which might require additional passing loops on that line.
An even interval Invernet service has not been possible due to the intensive single line occupancy at certain times particularly between Inverness and Dingwall.
The question of increased capacity for the Highland single track routes is wide ranging, but the prospects of money from the SRA at present are bleak. I wonder if some sort of "Highland Counties Rail Scheme" on the model of the earlier crofters roads scheme could be devised to allow the Scottish Executive and the EU to put money to rail infrastructure?
After all, our routes are part of the Trans European Networks (TENS) and this needs to work to the advantage rather than the detriment of the area and its rail services. We look forward to hearing in the next few weeks the identity of the bidder likely to run the ScotRail franchise for the next seven years. Meantime, I commend to you our first summer excursion outlined on page 7.