Scotland's railway just goes on getting better. The recent announcement that £56 million is to be spent on enhancements to the Highland Main Line between Perth and Inverness is very welcome. Since Devolution in 1999 there has been a startling expansion in the network, and the services which run on it. Since responsibility for the whole of Scotland's railway passed to the Scottish Government in 2005 this process has accelerated. And at last it's the Highlands' turn to join the feast. Your Committee is one among many organisations whose efforts have helped to bring this about. Our immediate task, however, is to follow up on the invitation made by Iain Coucher at the AGM (detailed elsewhere in this Newsletter) to set out the enhancements we'd like to see on the FNL itself. By their nature these are much smaller-scale than the HML work, but the principles are the same: do what is necessary to speed up the journey times, and - while you're at it - do what you can to make the timetable easier to deliver day to day. We intend to present our detailed response to Network Rail during the next month or two, and it will be published in the next Newsletter. At the same time we will report to you on the responses from the industry and others to our Station Survey (detailed elsewhere in this Newsletter).
Much of the work I intended to undertake - or at least to start - during my Convenership is now in progress. The major outstanding issue is that of level crossing safety. There is never a good time, it seems, to raise this subject. There is always a case waiting to be dealt with by the Courts and it's invidious to take one example of misuse while this is happening. That's no excuse for doing nothing, however. Network Rail and First ScotRail are subject to very stringent rules (laid down by the various safety authorities) governing level crossing use and, specifically, what must happen if the warning system fails. Network Rail seems unwilling to set this out in clear terms, falling back - according to Press reports - on such statements as "the system remains safe". I know it's safe, and perhaps you know it's safe, but just saying so doesn't persuade those who don't agree. While we are stuck with a signalling system which suffers frequent breakdowns, and with unbarriered crossings reliant on another elderly system, local residents are going to continue to alert the Press to every light failure and - far worse - local motorists are going to continue to believe that there isn't a train "due". As if nothing ever ran late up here. There is work to be done here, and I intend to spend some time on it over the next few months.