The Press & Journal has been reporting on Rhoda Grant MSP's campaigning for better service on the Far North Line and some of her experiences in pursuit of her aims.
Highland MSP, Rhoda Grant will be travelling to Thurso this Friday (12th December) to meet with members of Caithness Transport Forum at Naver House, to discuss the continuing transport issues that have disrupted over 190 services between Caithness and Inverness over the past 12 months.
Mrs Grant will be travelling to the meeting on the First ScotRail Service from Inverness to Thurso (Departing Inverness at 07:04) to experience the service first hand and also to speak to other passengers using the service, seeking people's thoughts and ideas on what they would like to see done to improve the journey and quality of service across the far north.
Mrs Grant said, "There are now just over 3 months until the current First ScotRail franchise expires on the 31st March 2015 and the franchise is handed over to the new operator, Abellio. This means that we now need to make people's voice heard more than ever along the length of the Far North Line and to make clear the demands for an improved, reliable, comfortable service that provides value for money to customers along the entire route."
"We have had a great response to the on-line petition calling for improvements and I want to give people who don't have internet access the opportunity to express their support and I'll be seeking signatures from local supporters at Thurso station when I step off the train this Friday."
"First ScotRail and the Scottish Government seem to think minor changes to the timetable will improve the service; however I can't see how a change in timetable will address issues such as staff failing to show up. The Scottish Government are failing to address this and constantly forget the far north, delivering a second class service. I am also disappointed that only Wick Station and not Thurso has been earmarked for station WiFi. How can the far north attract the tourists and business it needs when the train and its stations offer such poor service."
MSP Experiences Far North Failings First Hand December 17, 2014
Highland MSP, Rhoda Grant, who has been campaigning for improvements on the Far North Line experienced the problems facing the service first hand last Friday (12th December) when travelling from Inverness to Thurso on the railway to attend a meeting with members of Caithness Transport Forum to discuss the on-going problems facing the troubled line ahead of the franchise handover to Abellio in April next year.
Mrs Grant was booked to depart Inverness station at 07:02 and arrive into Thurso at 10:59am.
However she arrived around 1 hour late after passengers travelling to Thurso were asked to finish the final leg of the journey from Georgemas Junction by bus, while the train continued on to Wick.
The service was running around 10 minutes late upon arrival into Dingwall last Friday, where passengers were asked to disembark and change platforms to continue the journey north on an alternative train due to radio signalling problems on the original carriages.
Following on from this delay, the train was held before Lairg for around 20 minutes while waiting for the late running southbound service to pass, bringing the total delay to around 40 minutes before leaving Sutherland.
This was followed by another delay in Brora which resulted in an hour delay in reaching Caithness where passengers for Thurso were asked to complete the Journey by bus while the train continued on to Wick.
Mrs Grant said : "I have had a lot of constituents complain to me about the quality of service on the Far North Line and the lack of reliability in their service. This has prompted me to take the journey myself and travel on the service between Inverness and Thurso to meet with transport representatives and to experience some of the issues first hand."
"The service is not fit for purpose, the regular delays and cancellations make it too unreliable for many potential business users to rely on travel along the line, and tourists are more likely to use the road as a faster route north."
"This is why I want to see a guaranteed level of service on the Far North Line that will make it a more appealing and attractive method of transport."
"I believe the service at the moment is detrimental to the far north economy and improvements would bring and economic boost to Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross."
Mrs Grant also spoke to fellow passenger Craig Grieg of Wick, a Type 2 Diabetic who said he "fully supported the campaign and improvement was needed on the line."
He went on to comment on the lack of catering provision on the journey north last Friday, despite an on-board trolley service being advertised saying, "As a diabetic, I was disappointed to see there was no trolley service available, given the distance of the journey."
"There should be a catering service on board and in particular one that has healthy options available for passengers."
The four point action plan by Rhoda Grant MSP consists of:
- A guaranteed level of service on the Far North Line
- Free Wifi guaranteed on all Far North Line trains and at stations
- Improved facilities in Wick and Thurso stations
- Reduced journey times through infrastructure improvements
The John O'Groat Journal has also been following events on the Far North Line
An article in the John O'Groat Journal on 23rd November 2014 stated that 190 services were cancelled in the twelve month period up to September 2014. 130 scheduled journeys between Inverness and Wick did not start; 60 services did start but were unable to complete the scheduled route.
The article said that ScotRail had come under heavy criticism for the number of cancellations due to a shortage of drivers.