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

Introduction of Steam Train Service Between Tain and Dunrobin

In April 2005 Ross and Cromarty Enterprise commissioned an Operational Report from Douglas Binns on the above topic. FoFNL had been made aware of interest in this project in November 2005 and Tain Community Councillor, Mike Herd took the opportunity of our new Convener's appointment to acquaint him with the details. Read the full report here.

Our Convener's response to the report follows.

When FoFNL saw the report (or its predecessor) late in 2004 we had a series of doubts about its viability on the existing railway, and we wonder whether you have had any success in addressing these. With the introduction of the Invernet commuter services some of these difficulties have become worse from the standpoint of introducing extra paths.

The problems divide into three main groups: pathing, infrastructure and haulage. We will deal with these in turn.


As far as FoFNL is aware the Invernet service renders any use of Invergordon as impossible. Your train will be required to stand there for quite some time to pick up passengers, and to set them down again at the end of the service. We don't see where these can be fitted in. Use of Tain, as suggested, will still pose significant pathing problems. The new 0813 ex Wick, to be introduced in December 2006, will make pathing in the late morning even more difficult.

The oil train to Lairg now arrives there between 1030 and 1100, adding to the morning problems. There may be a requirement for engineers' access on the route.


We think the siding at Brora would require considerable refurbishment, and may not be long enough for the planned train. The Tain sidings would also require work. We are unsure whether there is space for stabling at these stations.

There are no coaling facilities at Tain.

A turning facility may be required somewhere (otherwise tender-first running at reduced speed will be necessary).


There are only around 24 main-line registered steam locomotives. We understand that the one you envisaged using may be about to receive substantial maintenance work.

Other thoughts

Cost is a major problem. A service of the kind envisaged is likely to cost close to £10,000 a day, requiring 300 seats at £30 each just to break even. While this is not impossible we wonder whether the financial side is sufficiently robust to cover costly contingencies. These would include rescue locomotive provision in the event of breakdown, performance and penalty issues if a delay is caused to First ScotRail or freight services, train crew facilities, Network Rail track access charges.

If you have managed to solve some of these difficulties it may well be that a steam service could be a commercially viable project, and if we were so persuaded I think it likely that FoFNL would be supportive. But the technical difficulties (often not appreciated by those offering political support) are immense and some - the pathing ones in particular - do seem virtually insurmountable. One of the difficulties FoFNL would face in lending support would be that the introduction of a steam service would be likely to have an adverse impact on the timetabled passenger service (which must be our prime concern) if the arrangements were not sufficiently robust. This concern would obviously be shared by First ScotRail and Network Rail.

In principle we are supportive of efforts which make use of the railway to enhance the local economy and encourage use of rail. One of our stated objectives is to encourage heritage use of the line. The problem with your proposal is that we can't see how it can be fitted in to the existing pattern of services. But things may have moved on since the difficulties I have described were discovered 16 months ago, and I'd be very interested to learn the current position.

Mike Lunan