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


This is the first newsletter since our successful AGM in Wick back in June. Thanks to all of you who came, some of you long distances, and to our speakers, John Thurso MP, Kenny Scott and Frank Roach. This is also the first newsletter produced by our new editor, Tony Jervis. I hope you will agree that its quality mirrors that of his predecessor, Roger Piercy, but its success or failure relies as much upon the contributors and I thank those also. If any members, or non-members, feel they have something to write about Far North Line matters or, indeed, anything on Highland rail, we always welcome contributions.

The Far North Line has had a successful summer, with some trains arriving in Inverness in excess of capacity on a regular basis, and we are seeing some of the loadings keeping up despite the end of the traditional summer break. It proves that there is much local traffic as well as tourists and that our campaign for an hourly service between Inverness and Tain has merit. We are still looking into how the business case for this can be produced, given that Transport Scotland has declined to take it forward itself. The success of rail during the road works on Kessock Bridge in June showed how rail can be part of the solution to Inverness's traffic congestion and that there is plenty of local traffic out there.

The elections to the Scottish Parliament in May produced a majority government for the first time since it was adjourned in March, 1707, and we were hoping that the new government would continue the rail renaissance which has been enjoyed in Scotland since the parliament's reconvening in 1999. As you can see from Richard Ardern's piece elsewhere, he attended the Cabinet meeting in Elgin at the beginning of September and was very disappointed that rail hardly featured at all. We call upon the Scottish government to fund fully the proposed upgrades to both the Highland Main Line and to Inverness to Aberdeen, both of which are at Network Rail's option selection stage. We are also disappointed to see that NR is not recommending any FNL projects in its Rail Utilisation Strategy 2 and have written back to them to reiterate our views that improvements should be made.

There is a piece in this newsletter on how the catering on the Highland Chieftain has been reduced from a three-course meal to a slice of warm quiche on a good day. Sadly, there's very little that anyone in Scotland can do about it as East Coast is an English franchise. The Welsh Assembly Government funds a return train each day between Holyhead and Cardiff, which conveys a full restaurant car, serving breakfast on the southbound journey and dinner on the northbound, both cooked freshly to order. I have partaken of the dinner on several occasions and I can confirm that it is excellent. A second return service is to start in December. Is there, perhaps, a case for the Scottish Government to do something similar on the HML?

One piece of good news to report is that, after Stagecoach decided it no longer wanted to convey rail passengers between Thurso railway station and Scrabster, First ScotRail jumped in and now provides a taxi for through passengers who book in advance or who advise the guard on the train in good time.

I started this Headcode with this year's AGM and I will finish with next year's. The Inverness and Ross-shire Railway opened its first section of line as far as Dingwall on Wednesday, 11th June, 1862. Our AGM will be in Dingwall on Monday, 11th June, 2012, the 150th anniversary of that opening. David Simpson, Managing Director of Network Rail Scotland, has agreed to be our main speaker and I am delighted to report that the Westminster Member of Parliament whose constituency includes Dingwall, Charles Kennedy MP, has also agreed to speak to us. We haven't yet planned the day but we believe that Highland Railway Heritage will want to mark it in some way, so we will be coordinating our plans with theirs.

John Brandon, Convener, Friends of the Far North Line.