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

The First Group Scotrail Franchise

On 20 August it was confirmed that First Group of Aberdeen would operate the ScotRail franchise with effect from Sunday 17 October 2004 for seven years with a possible extension for another three years. The total cost to the tax payer is to be £1.9 billion.

What are we told we can expect for the Far North Line?

  1. All current services and stations will be retained.
  2. All stations will be upgraded and improved with more CCTV.
  3. The "Invernet" trains from Kingussie and Tain to Inverness will go ahead.
  4. There will be more manual ticket inspections at Inverness to prevent fraud.
  5. We can look forward to "more reliable and customer-friendly" train services.
  6. There will be tougher performance targets on cancellations and delays.
  7. There will be a £1M investment in sleeper services to London.
  8. There will be higher standards of cleanliness, security and travel information on trains and at stations.
  9. There will be secure cycle parking facilities at every station.
  10. There will be extra investment for car parking improvements at stations.
  11. Plans to reduce overcrowding so that "no-one should have to wait more than ten minutes for a seat"
  12. The franchise will allow extra services to be added "as and when necessary at a reasonable cost".

What would we like First to do first?

Introduce Invernet, improve reliability and punctuality, and eliminate for good the overcrowding on the 17.30 ex Inverness!

We greatly welcome the commitment to Invernet and look forward to improvements to stations. Muir of Ord, Tain and Brora, to name but three, could certainly do with a facelift. Even more basic is the provision of a shelter at Kildonan which has nothing at the moment. It would be ironic if cycle lockers were provided there before a people shelter! Nevertheless, the provision of cycling and parking facilities at stations is also welcome.

We would hope that the plans to reduce overcrowding will apply as equally to our line as to the flagship Edinburgh-Glasgow services. There is an urgent need to end the long-lasting shortage of spare units available in Inverness and the perceived neglect by Glasgow Control of Highland needs when resources are stretched.

It is disappointing that there is as yet no commitment to design and build trains suitable for Highland needs. Adapting the 158s can only be a short term solution, but the adaptation needs to make a radical improvement to the whole interior environment for passengers, not just a tinkering at the edges.

Finally, we welcome the commitment to greater cleanliness of trains and stations and improved passenger information. The big departure board at Inverness is so degraded that it is often difficult to read and the individual monitors are much too small for most people. We would hope that First and Network Rail will urgently agree measures to clean the tracks (in stations particularly) and on a daily basis if necessary.

FOFNL wishes First Group and all its employees well with the new franchise and looks forward to working with them to help improve the public experience of and satisfaction with rail services in the north.

Richard Ardern.