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


In the last Far North Express, I concentrated on the railway lines serving Inverness from the south and from the east and how the upgrades that were promised by the First Minister, Alex Salmond, MSP, during a visit to the north in 2008 were being pushed back further and further into the future. Again, this time, I will not be talking about the Far North Line itself but on what is happening, or rather, not happening, in the Central Belt. For several years, at the initiative of Transport Scotland (TS), the rail industry has been planning the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP). TS's website tells us that: "We are the national transport agency for Scotland". Well, increasingly, it is the national roads agency and precious little else. Since independence, Scotland has led the way with the rail renaissance in the United Kingdom, Wales not being far behind. Not any more. Suddenly, and without, it seems, the prior knowledge of either Network Rail or of First ScotRail, nearly all of EGIP has been abandoned. It would have led to the electrification of the majority of passenger routes in the Central Belt, with the exceptions of Shotts, Fife and the new Borders line. Wires would have reached as far north as Dunblane and Alloa. There would also have been a new electrified curve from Almond Junction, south of Dalmeny, to Winchburgh Junction, east of Linlithgow, to enable trains to and from Falkirk and Glasgow and other towns and cities to serve the new station at Edinburgh Airport on the Aberdeen line. The line from Falkirk Grahamston to Grangemouth was to be electrified to enable the future reinstatement of passenger trains. Improvements would have taken place at a number of locations to improve capacity and reduce journey times. EGIP now seems to have been reduced to Newbridge Junction (where the Bathgate and Airdrie line branches off the Edinburgh and Glasgow main line) to Queen Street and Cumbernauld to Springburn, without any diversionary routes being included. I say "seems" because we haven't seen an official announcement: all of this has been gleaned from rail-interest magazines. Now, you may ask, what has this to do with the Far North Line? Well, the extensive electrification of the Central Belt and the introduction of a fleet of new electric trains would have released a substantial number of diesel multiple units (DMUs) for use elsewhere, including the hourly services into Inverness from both Perth and Aberdeen, along with the half-hourly trains between Inverurie and Aberdeen and between Elgin and Inverness. We would also be making a plea for our proposed hourly service between Inverness and Tain. If EGIP does not go ahead, it is difficult to see where the rolling stock for enhanced services would come from. The only good news is that the branch line to Paisley Canal, currently the terminus of a half-hourly service from Glasgow Central, is to be electrified in time for the December timetable change this year, thus releasing two-and-a-half diesel multiple units for use elsewhere; one of these will go to strengthen peak hour trains on the Far North Line during the Kessock Bridge works starting next February. Don't ask me what the half is: I don't know. Almost overnight, Scotland has gone from a country that sees its transport demands being met by rail expansion into one in which rail barely features at all. Some have even compared it with the UK Thatcher government but that would be wrong. Despite the Iron Lady's reputation for being anti-rail, her administration approved over nine hundred route miles of electrification, including the daddy of the lot, the East Coast Main Line from Hitchin to Leeds and Carstairs, along with the North Berwick branch. The Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, also holds the post of Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Capital Investment and Cities. How does she justify retrenching rail infrastructure improvements that reduce connectivity between cities?

Finally, a word of explanation about the late arrival of this newsletter. Unfortunately, our editor, Iain Shand is indisposed and has been unable to produce this edition. I am sure you will join me in wishing him a speedy recovery from his illness. In the meantime, we are extremely fortunate that our past editor, Tony Jervis, has agreed to step into the breach at very short notice.

John Brandon