FoFNL extends a warm welcome to Abellio as the new franchise holder from 1 April 2015. We look forward to working with the new company. The urgent need on the Far North Line is for a noticeable reduction in journey times and an improvement in punctuality. The Far North is an all year lifeline railway which is not as dependent as other rural lines on a huge increase in passengers during the summer holidays. Nevertheless it is a very scenic line and worthy to be included in the "Great Scenic Railway of Scotland." Two of our members wrote the line guide chapters for the FNL and the HML published in Scotland by Rail and FoFNL will be delighted to help Abellio improve passengers' enjoyment of the line.
The new ticket barriers at Inverness station seem to be more of a hindrance than a help. They have greatly reduced the queuing space on the cold concourse and required the removal of some of the concourse seating. There is only a small waiting room as an alternative. Queues are more common now that departure platforms are not being advised until close to departure. They are more likely to be out of the front door of the station in future. For arriving passengers the barriers are an impediment, and really frustrating when the train is late and the bus connection is about to go. Recent observations have shown that it is still taking five minutes for 100 people off a north arrival to clear the barriers. While we welcome the extra jobs, we wonder if enough additional revenue will be collected to pay for the wages of the seven new staff?
We would ask Abellio not to copy Northern Rail's recent extension of the afternoon peak for ticket restrictions. In our last issue we wrote at length about the difficulties of getting Richard Ardern back from the south in the late afternoon and connecting on to the Far North Line with anything other than a full price ticket. We asked that passengers travelling north of Perth should be allowed to board the 17:41 services from Edinburgh and Glasgow. We also asked that East Coast (which enjoys two of the prime paths on the Highland Main Line) should reconsider their new ban on ScotRail's Club 55 tickets. A traveller from Inverness to Stonehaven recently faced a 90 minute wait at Aberdeen because they could not use this ticket on an East Coast train which provided an ideal connection for the last leg. Good advice was given saying "Just get the bus!" Ticket restrictions are deterring travel by rail. This is not a desirable consequence.
The last three months have been a really frustrating time for Far North and Kyle passengers. We are grateful to Steve Montgomery MD of ScotRail for providing an explanation of what has been happening and we urge that the problems should be resolved very, very soon. The situation has highlighted the need to provide more flexible infrastructure to improve the robustness of the timetable and, as you will see elsewhere in this newsletter, we are asking Network Rail to schedule this as soon as possible.
We are profoundly grateful to retired committee members John Brandon and Gavin Sinclair for all the hard work they did for FoFNL over the years. We are pleased to welcome Malcolm Wood as our new Secretary and we are very grateful to Ian Budd, our webmaster, who has edited this issue of the newsletter. We do still require someone - one of you reading this - to step forward as our new Convener! With a new franchise, these should be exciting times to lead the society in supporting the FNL in a new era.