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

Taking A Cab

Roger Piercy Up Front

I have experienced several memorable AGMs in my time as a member of FoFNL but the memory of 18 June 2011 will stay with me for a long time. Obviously the decision not to stand for re-election as a committee member and Newsletter Editor would remain but it was the events on the day that are so memorable.

I suppose I should have been suspicious that plans were afoot when some of my fellow committee members were showing signs of concern regarding my intended method of transport to reach the AGM. Not that they had to twist my arm to travel by train; they should have realised that, though I am a dedicated motorist (shock - horror!), I wouldn't want to miss the opportunity of the craic to be had with fellow members of FoFNL and the enjoyable journey north.

On boarding the train at Alness all became very clear as to what had been planned for me as I was met by a reception committee including Alec Patterson of ScotRail, who presented me with a Cab Pass and, after some form filling, I was ensconced into the cab for what was to be a most enjoyable journey.

The most obvious difference between the side views from a carriage is that these are limited to a long range with nearside views being reduced to a blur, plus, of course, they can only be one-sided. Whereas from the cab you can take in the whole panoramic view; you get advanced warning of what to look at and you can observe lineside features. . . . It was interesting to be reminded what a sterling service steam locomotives provided by clearing lineside vegetation when we approached Kildonan and saw the results of a previous steam tour. Little did I realise what a dramatic view I would have had had I been riding in the cab on the southbound journey when in a nearby location we were driving between the flames caused by the preceding Deltic-hauled rail tour, not quite what one would have expected from a diesel.

The view from the cab provides the opportunities for appreciating the civil engineering that was involved in building the line and continuing with its maintenance. However, this threw up some puzzles: it was difficult to understand the logic behind the decision to place wheel-flange lubricators in their present locations. To my simple mind they are of benefit to reduce friction on tight curves but this didn't seem to apply. Another aspect of the line was the setting of line speeds and the method of dealing with the many crossings. Some crossings required no action from the driver and were crossed at the prevailing line speed but others, similar to my eye, demanded a reduction in speed and the sounding of the 'whistle' (well, it does have a big "W" at the lineside). I was intrigued by one speed allowance of 90mph which, under the current method of driving as economically as possible, meant that after accelerating to and reaching the allowed 90mph, an immediate reduction in speed was required.

It was interesting to see the amount of continuous welded track that is being installed as it certainly improves the ride. However, there is one section of track that I hope will be the last to be installed and that is the section from Dingwall to Foulis crossing. There is nothing more pleasant than for me to be working in the garden on the north side of the Black Isle on a still day to hear the northbound trains approaching Foulis along the jointed track and 'whistling' a warning at the crossing.

My thanks go to John Yellowlees and Alec Patterson and my committee colleagues for organising a very special and privileged day.