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

Convener's Report For The 2011 FoFNL AGM

The past year has seen a number of successes in our campaigning for improvements to train services on the Far North Line. The portions of the 17:52 from Inverness were reversed so that the Wick section is on the front, thus shortening journey times for the majority of passengers, and we have succeeded in having stops by trains at Dunrobin Castle aligned with the opening dates and hours of the Castle. This, we understand, is the most popular tourist attraction north of the Great Glen with some 50 000 visitors a year, and these timetable changes, along with an advertising campaign by the Castle, which stresses the convenience of using rail and gives a discount on entry to rail passengers, will, we hope, have a very beneficial effect upon rail use at the northern end of our line. Many thanks to Bob Barnes-Watts for his work on this. Unfortunately, we have lost one of our rail-served attractions for the time being. During the bad weather last winter, part of the roof of Carbisdale Castle, now a Youth Hostel and served by Culrain station, collapsed under the weight of snow and it has been closed since. We understand that it is proposed to reopen it in September but we will, of course, have lost the summer season.

We still have some way to go and a "wish-list" of improvements to the Far North Line and to connectivity from both Aberdeen and via the Highland Main Line was published in the most recent newsletter. We remain concerned at the six-hour gap in services to Inverness from Alness, Ross and Cromarty's largest town, and we will continue to campaign for the 08:12 from Wick to call there. The saga of Conon Bridge station limps towards its hopeful conclusion of reopening but progress has been slow. FoFNL was excluded from a meeting held in Inverness with the then Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson, last year to discuss this for reasons which were somewhat spurious. Although the meeting was called by Conon Community Council, the SNP decreed that we should not attend; we were advised of this through the pages of a newspaper. A subsequent letter of complaint to the SNP's Chief Executive was ignored.

The line suffered quite badly during the first bout of bad weather experienced last winter. Much of this has been covered in the newsletters but it seems that the railway authorities in remote Glasgow may have misunderstood the situation in the north of Scotland. I'm pleased to say that, when the weather deteriorated again, the effect was less.

Members will recall that, in my report last year, I mentioned the informal gathering which the Secretary and I had attended at Portcullis House and that some interesting developments had come from that. You will have read in subsequent newsletters that these pertained to proposals for an hourly train service between Inverness and Tain and that, subsequently, I attended a meeting in Glasgow with Transport Scotland (TS) and HITRANS at which these were tabled. They were received favourably and we were led to believe that TS would be taking them forward to produce a business case. However, the eventual response we received was that, because we hadn't done the business case, they could not be taken forward. HITRANS also advised us that they were unable to arrange it. This left us in somewhat of a "Catch 22" situation. I am, however, pleased to be able to report that we have received an offer for the business case to be produced at a reduced rate and we are currently investigating how this could be financed. Sadly, even this reduced rate is beyond HITRANS.

The constitution requires that we hold a minimum of three committee meetings a year. You may remember that, between the two previous AGMs, we had only held two, this being because the AGMs were only ten months apart. I can report that, to redress the balance, we have held four since the last AGM, alternating between Inverness and Edinburgh. Committee members have, once again, been active in representing the society at numerous meetings and have put in a great deal of time and effort on our behalf.

At last year's AGM I paid particular thanks to our newsletter editor, Roger Piercy. At a subsequent committee meeting, he announced that he would be relinquishing his post at this AGM. This is a bitter-sweet moment for us all. On the one hand, it is my happy duty to thank him once again for all the hard work he has put in over the many years in which he has given service to the society but, on the other, we will all be sad to see him go. I would hope that his replacement will receive as much support from the membership and beyond in respect of being supplied with articles for the newsletter as Roger has.

Finally, although I have mentioned a couple of committee members individually, an organisation such as the Friends of the Far North Line could not function without the input of all of the committee and I thank them for the hard work they've all done over the past year.

John Brandon