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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 readers may think that what follows simply shows me to be "off message" or "out of my tree" (or whatever is the popular jargon this month) - so I deem it prudent to make it entirely clear that these are personal views not necessarily endorsed by the Friends' committee.

The first phase of the West Coast Main Line upgrading is going ahead apace. An enormous amount of work in all aspects of the infrastructure is involved, and presently the capital cost is impressive. This will presently raise the line speed limit to 125mph over extensive sections. All well and good. The second phase seeks to permit an improved maximum line speed of 140mph over certain stretches. Note that this is only an increase of 15mph, to be achieved at enormous extra cost; in fact nearly as much again - money that could be far more usefully invested elsewhere in the network.

I find myself asking if this can possibly be a sensible use of resources - just to save some 12 minutes on a long journey. It sounds to me like a megalomaniac desire to show off, regardless of cost, environmental impact or rational assessment. Why on earth do we have to go ever faster and faster? This seems to me madness of a high order.

The excuse of course is a supposedly imperative need to compete with air travel. But rail can offer at least comparable comfort levels and far better refreshments. To say nothing of reduced stress levels!

I make no secret of the fact I shall greet with the utmost equanimity news of late completion of phase 1, so hugely over budget that phase 2 is abandoned.

We hear a lot about the lack of capacity on busier sections of the network - but are we using it to the best effect? The shortage is largely a matter of 'paths'. Now, as I understand it, operating companies pay for paths, related to the frequency and speeds of the trains they wish to run-while observation shows that far too many of them are utilised by 2 and 3 coach trains, often running over considerable distances, when intermediate stations can perfectly well accept 8-12 coaches.

In certain metropolitan and suburban areas high frequency is essential; in others it may be confined to rush hours; in many other cases, reasonable regularity - say every thirty minutes or, where applicable, hourly - will simply suffice. Why not run longer trains at such reduced frequencies-using the paths to better effect, and releasing extra capacity where needed?

We know that trains cost serious money, and their operation is a commercial venture for the companies concerned but, for that reason alone, it must be sound policy to ensure that trains are reliably punctual and well filled but not overcrowded.

Your Secretary