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

Facing Points

Some commentators seem to suggest that many companies are driven by a desire for excessive profit. Just the occasional 'cowboy' outfit apart, this strikes me as grotesque.

Any company worth its salt will pursue a meticulously prepared long term business plan, balancing cashflow against human and material resources, assessing likely market trends and seeking a realistic profit margin to satisfy their shareholders and permit further growth: factors outwith its control (trade fluctuations and government legislation for example) will be finely assessed under a built-in contingency. Above all, they will be aware that consistent expertise, customer care, reliability and integrity is essential for sustained success. A company stands or falls by its reputation.

Our railway operating companies are additionally constrained by having much of their income and expenditure determined by the Rail Regulator and under PSO subsidy they must provide an agreed level of service. In the case of Network Rail, working income is derived from the companies and the Strategic Rail Authority; any excess must be begged from a reluctant Treasury. As a non-profit concern, they cannot now realistically seek external investment.

If only politicians (whose grasp of railway industry timescale remains sadly imperfect) would, having set an advised framework, stand aside and let professional railwaymen get on with the task to which they are devoted, we might presently secure substantial progress. If only they might be persuaded - here as elsewhere - not to keep digging up the plant to see if it's still alive!

I may be marginally past my prime, and honestly do try to remain positive. But why does progress seem so often downhill nowadays? To my mind - and a view widely shared - the HSTs (IC.125s if you are too young) have proved the best trains we have ever had, now 30 years old. Four seat bays with a table, comfort and legroom. Newer trains offer less and less tables, airline seating pitched too tightly with those wretched folding shelves, never enough luggage or cycle space. GNER, with an extra coach in their sets, are modifying the Mark 4s in similar mode. Even the otherwise attractive Turbostars conspicuously lack a draught lobby by the doors, essential in the Highlands. Yes, I know, it is all down to costs.. .. Cram them in! But that simply is not the one over-riding factor. Do those who make such decisions not realise how unwisely this damages the overall 'travel experience'?

After extensive renovation, the Golspie station building, where private work has been in hand for some time, is clearly going to make this a far more attractive place to board and alight.

The survival of so many station buildings is very fortunate. It might so easily have appeared a long term economy to have pulled them all down and replaced them with spare modern shelters like those at Muir of Ord, Alness and Beauly. At the same time there is no denying that a regularly occupied building often has the effect of discouraging vandalism and making stations feel a good deal more secure and traveller-friendly. Best of all, perhaps, where practicable, a retail outlet like a newsagents or ticket agency. Simply being seen as 'used' makes a world of difference. Just imagine if someone might instill new life into Invergordon, Brora (where sadly one proposal foundered) and Helmsdale.

In these days of well-nigh obsessive communication - motorists 'at it' whilst driving, colliding pedestrians too busy chatting into their mobiles to look where they are going - the runaway wagon incident on Shap Incline which killed four workmen has to seem horribly ironic. With the line in possession, there were no lookouts, track circuiting was likely switched out, and maybe machinery noise at both Scout Green and Tebay drowned any other sound, but the accelerating wagon must have taken 5 or 6 minutes to cover the distance on its falling gradient of 1:75. In all that time it seems no one noticed or, if they did, managed to contact the lower team by mobile 'phone. A fearsome tragedy.

Keith Tyler