In April I received an email from a regular railway traveller.
I travel on tourist trains around the world. In January I made the trip from Bognor Regis to Wick and Thurso by train. The Scottish part of the journey rivals the best in the world for scenery, the staff are fantastic, but the windows on our train from Wick to Inverness were very dirty. Please put pressure on the operator to arrange for them to be cleaned before starting every journey. It is good that the train still runs, but tourists want, and will pay more for something better than a dirty class 158 DMU. Take a look at what Kiwi Rail has done with its Scenic Trains, because trains like those would attract tourists in their hoards to Scotland. They don't need to run every day, one train could probably cover all of Scotland's scenic routes in a week, people and tour companies will arrange their itineraries to suit when the train runs. Switzerland is another good example for tourist trains. Scotland's railways are a fantastic asset, that can be used to bring more visitors to Scotland. Class 158 DMUs are better than nothing, but they are not good enough for today's world travellers. Please lean on the new operator to provide a more suitable train for the tourist and tourist industry. I visit Scotland by train regularly, there have been occasions when I have not been able to get a seat on the Highland Main Line. Tourists talk to other potential tourists, if their experience of Scottish trains has been poor, that is what is going to be talked about. The best solution is to separate tourists from local travellers, providing each with the train and service that best suit their needs.
Best wishes, Tim Hitchcock.
I contacted Tim who went on to write:"Great Rail Journeys", "Rail Discoveries", "Railway Touring Company", "Cosmos Tourama", are some of the holiday companies I have personally enjoyed railway touring holidays with. Scotland has the "Belmond Royal Scotsman", the "Jacobite" steam train and a few one-off charters. No train uses purpose built rolling stock. I believe one bright distinctive train is what is needed, such as New Zealand's TransAlpine or Switzerland's Glacier Express. Almost everyone knows these trains, Scotland needs to create its own version. To make the train pay it needs to work hard and I believe the Scottish government should play its part, after all it has shown itself to be both pro-rail and proactive in making things happen. Friends of railways do a good job and I look forward to the day when I can see Scotland from a purpose built tourist train with large clean windows, an open area for photographers, optional commentary and a good buffet car.
I read with interest the article by Richard Ardern in Issue 64 of The Far North Express. I too had attended the talk given by Adrian Boal at Millburn Academy Inverness on November 19th on behalf of the Inverness Field Club, but was somewhat disappointed that another possible factor was not mentioned in his presentation.
The only new facts I learned were that the steel re-inforcing rods put into the new supporting pillars were coated with a ceramic sheath, presumably to protect them and slow down any subsequent corrosion, and that a 5ft deep scour hole had developed downstream; but it was also of interest to see copies of Joseph Mitchell's original drawings of 1862, if only briefly. Joseph Mitchell from his own experience and that of his father, former Inspector of Roads and Bridges for the Highlands, knew the River Ness well and was acutely aware of the effects of scouring by the fast flowing river.
I had attended, also, a previous talk at the Inverness Museum on the collapse of the viaduct shortly after it had occurred, and after it was announced that a new viaduct would be built. I cannot remember the exact date of the talk or who gave it, possibly someone from Jamieson Mackay & Partners, Glasgow (the consultants) who designed the new replacement bridge. Whosoever it was, he paid tribute to Joseph Mitchell and his original design of 1862 and to Malcolm Rifkind for standing up to Margaret Thatcher and fulfilling his promise that a replacement viaduct would be built, otherwise there would have been no Far North Line. He claimed that if a profound change in the flow of the river had not occurred, Joseph Mitchell's viaduct would have survived to the present day! This may have been brought about by the Inverness Harbour Board's decision to dredge the harbour to accommodate larger docking vessels.
I have not been able to find any details of this operation and if any consultations were held with Network Rail on what possible effects this could cause on the river flow upstream and if any steps were taken to allow for this on upstream structures. In any event, after the dredging, there was a significant increase in the river flow and, possibly as a consequence of the increased scouring effects, the viaduct collapsed.
The above theory was not mentioned in the talk at Millburn Academy last November and unfortunately there was not time for me to raise the matter myself.
I trust that you will find this of interest and that it will help to set the record straight.
Thomas L. Coombs
February 14th, 2015.
After receiving issue 63 of the newsletter I decided that after thoroughly enjoying the wide mix of articles and the continuing good work of the FoFNL Committee I would write and congratulate the new team behind the newsletter. Well you can see where that got me after I found myself reacting in the same way on receiving issue 64 and this time being motivated to put pen to paper.
What follows is a very personal account of my observations of the work of the committee from the privileged position of having been a member in my capacity of Newsletter Editor.
Why "Frustrations"? Well, time and time again on reading newsletters it is evident that FoFNL are trying to influence people who should know an awful lot more about running a railway than we do but who appear to make inexplicably poor decisions. Two examples from issue 64 will make my point before I go further back into the past. Page 13 describes the timetabling of two trains to pass at a non-existent loop at Kinbrace and on page 25 where Les Turner in his paragraph headed "Bizarre" tells us of an improved lightly used level crossing having its speed limit reduced from 20mph to 10mph. The restraint exercised by our committee from not 'sounding off' to the powers-that-be is highly admirable.
I find myself smiling as I write this, in that it reminds me of an email exchange I had with John Brandon, our Convener at the time, when I had the temerity to suggest that it was possible that the work of FoFNL was now finished. Quite rightly he put me in my place by detailing all the measures that still needed to be pursued as has been amplified by successive newsletters.
Historically the frustrations that come to mind are quite varied: take for example our feeling that we had had success in getting the afternoon services to Kyle and Wick to leave Inverness as a four-car unit thereby making good use of the time and signalling constraints imposed by the single track to Muir of Ord. Imagine our horror when it was discovered that someone who should have known better had put the Kyle portion in front of the Wick portion thereby forcing the long-suffering Wick passengers into an unnecessary wait due to the constraints of the RETB signalling system.
A more personal frustration was the situation regarding a planning application by Highland Deephaven at Evanton to have a rail link provided into the pipe construction yard. Here we had an incredible situation where someone, when designing the A9 by-pass of Evanton, had had the foresight to design in, and have built, a rail-under-road bridge installed in anticipation of further developments at the pipe yard. To my limited knowledge of such things this seemed to be a perfect situation for achieving more freight on the line, but unfortunately in the years that had passed by the gradients and the locomotives were now deemed unsuitable for pursuing this development and now I am faced with this white elephant every time I drive that section of the A9.
I'll restrict myself to just two further examples of the frustrations we faced. The first was the Georgemas Chord. On paper it seemed a perfect solution as to how to improve the delivery of passengers to Thurso and Wick and reduce some of the travel time they experienced. We knew that it would cost money that was scarce and also that the RETB signalling system at the time was unlikely to be reprogrammed to cope with the extra complexity of the chord, but it was nevertheless disappointing that nothing ever came of it.
Which brings me to my last frustration. We went to a great deal of trouble to bring about the improvement in the design of the 158 units so that they are more suitable for our line: toilet retention tanks, better window/seat alignment, better cycle and wheelchair accommodation. So it is extremely disappointing that there are more and more reports of 'our' units being deployed in the Central Belt whilst passengers in the north have to put up with the inadequate unrefurbished ones. Keep up the good work, and I would encourage members to offer what skills and interests they have to further the aims of FoFNL and help keep the various organisations we work with on their toes.
J.R.Piercy Member 14