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

Dornoch - An Alternative Perspective

The following is the text of an article contributed to the RDS(Scotland) newsletter 'Notes' by our Secretary, Keith Tyler.

We think it time to let members (of the RDS(Scotland)) know that some of those who live in the Far North Line catchment area find Ken Sutherland's unremitting advocacy of the Dornoch Cut-Off (as if work on it might commence at once) wholly unrealistic.

In particular, the Committee of the Friends of the Far North Line, having closely reviewed this and other matters with Railtrack and ScotRail in seeking to secure an ongoing programme of improving service - which they are offering wherever a rational case can be identified - consider his repeated statements to the press unwise and counter-productive and indeed damaging to RDS's reputation in the wider field we share with them.

We fully appreciate that this stance may seem lacking in vision to some, not least quite a few of our own members, but we sincerely believe that euphoric images are no match for reality.

Consider some salient facts:

  1. The earlier Dornoch proposal, ultimately rejected by BR, is dead and buried. Neither Railtrack nor ScotRail considers a cut-off route as other than a very long term notion.
  2. Undoubtedly a major reduction in end-to-end timing would notably enhance the rail option for passengers to or from Caithness, Orkney and much of Sutherland - but these are among the most sparsely inhabited areas in the Kingdom.
  3. The current service of 3 trains each way 6 days a week, with a 2 train short summer Sunday service, is subsidised: any additional trains would have to meet their full costs. Even with projected growth in freight, traffic levels are far too light to justify any massive capital investment.
  4. Without wholesale replacement of speed-restricted turnouts and crossings, and costly upgrading of radio signalling, little time would be saved by a limited-stop train.
  5. The Dornoch Cut-Off idea is highly imaginative and, for that very reason, beguiling. It is too easily presented as just a bridge - even a tack-on one! It involves a new Dornoch bridge, another over the Fleet, negotiating an enlarged Dornoch and some 10 miles of new railway between Tain and Golspie, costing about £27m - to save some 40 minutes on 6 trains a day! (Four if Ardgay, Lairg and Rogart retain a single daily service.)

In the short and medium term this is a clear non-starter; even in the long term pretty doubtful. In our view, to persist in 'banging this drum' is damaging. It raises unwarranted public expectations.

We support it as a distinctly long term option, and are actively seeking to ensure Highland Council safeguard its route - otherwise there might be no practicable route to build anyway! - but see no early likelihood of its construction and, however disappointing to those relatively few it would greatly assist, see absolutely no point in misleading them by pretending otherwise.