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

A Day in Life of ...

Frank Roach, Partnership Manager, the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS)

"It's pretty varied work... days in the office can be fairly few and far between. I travel a lot - most weeks I'll be down in central Scotland. On a perfect day, I get the 0835 from Rogart, where I live, down one stop to Lairg station, where I work. The office is in the former booking office. I return either by train in the afternoon or I cycle back. That's the perfect day, but of course you often get involved in doing other things, and quite often I have to go down to Inverness to meet local authority officers.

If I manage a day a week in the office, that's pretty good. This week, because of the snow, I'm not going to travel at all. I will be office-based. It's a big patch - the region is supposedly north of Crianlarich, north of Pitlochry, and west of Elgin. But those aren't routes in themselves, so effectively it's north of Glasgow, north of Perth and west of Aberdeen, which obviously requires quite a lot of train travel to get around.

A lot of the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS) and my work involves lobbying for improved transport links, and having good relationships with people in ScotRail, with rail freight operators, and with Network Rail.

But HITRANS is also a statutory body, unlike the Highland Rail Partnership, which was a not-for-profit organisation. Therefore, there's a strategic role. In rail that's pretty obvious, because local authorities tend not to have dedicated rail officers. So with a number of local authorities combining there is a strong reason for having someone who is dedicated to rail.

First thing today I was passing information around about the Carrbridge derailment, and I have spoken to logistics providers about the effects of that. Then I spent the morning working on a consultant's brief for investigating the capability of the Highland rail network for freight, looking specifically at train length, train weight, loading gauge, terminal provision, terminal access arrangements, the capacity of the terminal and lastly, but most importantly, train pathing. There are more trains running in this part of the world than probably ever before.

This afternoon I will try to finish the brief off, and then I have to do some work on options for additional trains on the Aberdeen-Inverness line. Next week, I have a meeting with Transport Scotland. There will certainly be people from ScotRail at that, so I have to start getting the timetables out and working out some opportunities for some additional services.

The best bit is variety, there's rarely a dull moment. It's nice working from a Victorian booking office with a view of the snow-covered hills and seeing the coming and going of a station - it's nice to be part of all that. The worst bits are, I guess, it takes a long time to change anything, and sometimes you wonder if those changes are ever going to happen, because the rail network changes very slowly.

I helped set up the Friends of the Far North line back in 1994, which was essentially a campaigning group to see off any potential threat to the Inverness- Wick line during the privatisation process. I got involved because I moved to near a railway station, and thought we really needed to make sure that trains still call there, and it developed from that.

After some years, we were able to lobby for funding to be provided by the local authorities to employ somebody, who ended up being me. The Highland Rail Partnership was formed, and we were subsequently subsumed into HITRANS.

I get loads of 'the last time I went on the train it was...' I get that all the time. People ring me to find out when the next train is and what the fares are, so yes, you always get the gripes.

And there's a limited amount that one can do, especially as I'm not a railway employee. But by the same token, not being a railway employee you are not bound by company loyalty in quite the same way.

People have a rather rosy historical perspective, so they'll hark back to a day when there was only a railway and very few roads, so people sometimes have a view of the past that hasn't been updated. People often don't realise quite what good services we have. They often think the fares are higher than they actually are, so there is a slow process of education to be done.

One wish? 24/7 network availability. The roads are open 24/7, and if you are to seriously compete you have to be open 24/7 as well. We know that's hard to do, about six and a half days a week is the best we're ever going to get. But the network's expensive, so therefore it should be used as intensively as possible."

Frank Roach was talking to Richard Johnstone

Our thanks go to Nigel Harris, Managing Editor RAIL Magazine for permission to use this article.