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

Working together to build a better railway

Seminar conducted by the Rail Passengers' Committee, Scotland

On the 28th February your Chairman, Richard Ardern, and Committee member, Stewart Campbell, attended this Seminar at which Richard had been invited to present "A view from the North".

The meeting opened with the Convener, Mike Lunan, welcoming everyone to the first rail user groups' seminar held by the Rail Passengers' Committee, Scotland (RPCS).

He outlined the objectives of the Seminar as:

  1. to work more closely with transport groups to drive forward the passenger agenda.
  2. to improve knowledge amongst transport groups of RPCS role in addressing the needs of current and potential passengers.
  3. to improve RPCS knowledge of the aims and objectives of transport groups.
  4. to create greater knowledge and sharing of agendas to identify clashing objectives and to facilitate partnership working.

The keynote address was given by RPCS member James King who outlined their priorities for 2004 as follows:

  1. to understand the needs and to represent the views of passengers,
  2. to be an effective and influential force for change,
  3. to raise the profile of the RPC network, and
  4. to develop and promote a passenger centred vision for the railways.

He then outlined various examples of their success in influencing the train operating companies.

Richard Ardern's presentation covered a substantial geographical area, the territory of various support groups including FoFNL. They dealt with a varying list of issues such as service frequencies, rolling stock, fares, integration and infrastructure. He provided examples of advances during the current ScotRail franchise such as the Highland Rail Partnership and Development Officer, Tain commuter train, Sunday trains from/to Wick and Kyle, Beauly Station reopening, overnight seats on the sleepers, Class 170 trains and the replacement of the Moy timber viaduct. He emphasised that passengers' requirements should come first, railways should not be market, operator or accountant led.

Service frequency and rolling stock improvements included an hourly service from Inverness to the south and four trains a day on all rural routes. Now was the time to plan for trains of HST standards of comfort for the longer ScotRail routes. In the interim there could be a loco-hauled Inverness-Edinburgh service in summer. A new diesel multiple unit (DMU) should be designed and built for rural routes, where, in the interim, the Midland Main Line (MML) 170s could replace the Class 158s. Rail vehicle comfort should keep up to date with improvements in car-design, and rail must also ensure that it can cope when things go wrong. It was not acceptable that in recent years there had been no spare unit to cover for problems at Inverness.

Fare requirements included Highland Railcard concessions, day returns introduced from stations between Tain and Inverness to Aberdeen and also to and from Glasgow and Edinburgh, with a triangular fare to facilitate journeys to both cities. Apex returns should be offered area wide and single fares should be lower than day returns. A fares menu should be displayed at all staffed stations.

New station requirements included Conon, Halkirk, Evanton, Inverness Airport and Lhanbryde. Integration issues covered were the Fort William bus interchange that had been held up and the Inverness interchange that had not happened. Funding for infrastructure to enable bus/rail and ferry/rail interchanges should be secured from the Scottish Executive to allow for service connections with Swiss style reliability. Information and through ticketing is required along with demand responsive transport such as train taxis. Station facilities should be improved, there should be better information provision and warm, carpeted waiting areas. It was absurd that the toilet at Nairn was unavailable after the ScotRail staff member went home at 15.00 despite a Network Rail signaller being present nearby. Booking office queues at Inverness and Waverley should be cut and litter removed from the tracks on a much more frequent basis.

Infrastructure improvements required for the Inverness-Aberdeen line include a new passing loop at Orton, marrying of the station and loop at both Forres and Keith and double track from Inverness-Dalcross and Dyce-Aberdeen. New loops were required for greater capacity at Newtonmore and Etteridge on the Highland Main Line, together with a faster approach to Perth, and raised platform heights, for example at Dunkeld Station. The Far North Line required a curve at Georgemas, level crossings upgrades, modernised signalling with more bidirectional running and clearance for 170 units. Improvement aspirations for other lines such as a double track between Montrose and Usan, Class 67 clearance for the Fort William Sleeper and vegetation clearance to restore scenic views on the West Highland Line (WHL) were also mentioned.

Richard summarised some of the priorities for FOFNL and the north as new and comfortable rolling stock, day returns and cheaper singles, Inverness-Aberdeen and Inverness-Perth capacity/frequency increases, Aberdeen Crossrail, Georgemas curve, a connecting bus between Thurso station and Scrabster, cleaner trains, toilets and tidier tracks. He concluded that RPCS required representation from the north.

A wide range of responses was made by the delegates.

The seminar also included presentations giving "A View from the East", "A View from the Capital", "A National perspective" (from Railfuture Scotland), and "The Role of the Strategic Rail Authority" and concluded with a panel debate "How can we Work Together To Build A Better Railway?"