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

Rail Users Consultative Committee For Scotland

Inverness Meeting 24 May 2000

Nine members and two officials of the RUCCS met with some 35 rail industry representatives and members of the public at this all day meeting described by Helen Millar as the liveliest meeting in her 4 years as Chairman and the first here for six years. John Melling, Donald MacCuish and Richard Ardern attended from FoFNL.

Alastair MacPherson, ScotRail MD, arrived on the Caledonian Sleeper whose engine, Restormel, had expired at Carr Bridge and had to be rescued by a Class 66. Replacement locomotives for the class 47s are under discussion. The all night seating coach on the sleeper has been very successful but ScotRail are not convinced there is a market for a Saturday night train.

National Express are now three years in to the ScotRail franchise and intend to continue to further develop and improve services. Decisions will be taken during June on the thorny problem of increasing bike spaces on the 158s for the North line possibly as an alternative to the disabled seat. Space configuration on these units is presently driven by franchise capacity obligations in Fife and elsewhere. John Melling (JM) stressed the two different markets the units are serving and asked that for the new franchise there should be a requirement to have tourist-market friendly trains on the north lines. Alastair MacPherson gave an assurance that, contrary to timetable indications, there would be catering on almost all services south from Inverness. JM asked for a watching brief to be kept for any problems arising from the new through trains from the north and west to Aberdeen and the south. The extra eight minutes running time between Inverness and Muir of Ord required for reversal purposes is unwelcome and running the Dingwall commuter train eight minutes earlier in the mornings may not be helpful to loadings.

With the Turbostar trains coming on to three or four of the services south from Inverness in the autumn, Richard Ardern (RJA) asked if ScotRail would take the opportunity to further increase the appeal of the service by introducing day return tickets between Inverness and the south. While welcoming the reintroduction of the 9 am departure to Glasgow, he asked if the Edinburgh connection could also be restored. This could be achieved by running the 11.08 Perth to Edinburgh service half an hour later.

Frank Roach then gave a presentation on the work of the Highland Rail Network Development Partnership. FoFNL readers will be familiar with achievements to date, but it was important to brief the RUCCS on these. For the future, aspirations mentioned were signalling access to platform 5 at Inverness from the south for passenger use; an all year Sunday service on the North Line; line speed improvements between Perth and Ladybank; timber loading at Kinbrace and on the West Highland line; reopening Beauly station; and an additional unit to work an Inner Moray Firth local service between Kingussie, Tain and Forres. Donald MacCuish (D MacC) suggested new stations at Smithton and Cradlehall and RJA suggested a single coach unit at Georgemas to improve the service to Wick.

A journey time reduction of 5 minutes south from Inverness due to infrastructure improvements should be available by October. Major improvements identified for Inverness-Aberdeen are included in "incremental output statements" submitted to the Strategic Rail Authority for sanction and hopefully funding. A long loop between Orton and Orbliston and one long freight passing loop on both the Far North Line and the West Highland line are other aspirations. Mr. Wunsch expressed the wish that there should also be further line speed improvements on the FNL in the next few years.

A questioner from Elgin asked for crossing loops in the stations at Forres and Keith. Railtrack would like to build a new station at Forres on the loop but expect that the new Orton loop would go a long way to alleviating the crossing problems at Keith. RJA asked for aesthetic improvements at Invergordon, removal of litter from the tracks at Inverness and for Railtrack to become involved in progressing an integrated transport interchange at the North Line side of the station at Inverness. Railtrack were doubtful if they could do much with the blitzed building at Invergordon because it is listed, but undertook to take the other two issues on board.

There was discussion of Virgin's indicative proposals for clockface interval services south from Scotland in three years time. Alan MacLean, Virgin's Public Affairs Manager for Scotland, stated categorically that Virgin do not propose to run trains from Inverness.

There was also a discussion on the dichotomy between reduced journey times and additional station stops. Speed won! JM suggested that if the fourth train was restored to the FNL it could be more of an express and if there was eventually a regular local service to Tain, trains going further north might omit some local service stops. RJA expressed a wish for the northbound Highland Chieftain to be speeded up north of Edinburgh as it is now almost the slowest service on the line. D MacC drew attention to possible Freightliner services to Inverness next year which might highlight capacity problems on the Inverness-Perth line. The RUCCS will now have a much better appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of Highland rail services.

They promised to come back soon.

Richard Ardern