There's good news and bad news. The good news is that Network Rail will be carrying out important work at some LXs on the FNL in the next few months which will allow the line-speeds to be increased. This should enable the December timetable to shave several minutes off the end-to-end timings.
The long-running saga on the "temporary" speed restriction at Chapelton Farm just north of Muir of Ord should be over as this issue of Far North Express is being printed. The newly-designed kit ran into problems with safety authorisation, and had to be re-designed. It will allow trains to run much more quickly for several hundred metres approaching (and more usefully when leaving) Muir of Ord station.
Work will be done during the summer at Lairg and at Delny. In the latter case the crossing will be temporarily upgraded to an ACBL (ie. with a barrier and a white light to show the train driver that the barrier has fallen). This is due to be done in August and will allow a substantial increase in speed. The permanent solution is to close the LX altogether, replacing it with an improved bridge a few hundred metres away. When this is done (expected in 2019) the LX kit will be moved to Kildonan where the Open Crossing still, well into the 21st Century, requires the train to come to a complete stop.
A trial is under way at Ardrossan Princes Street (where the road crossed is quite wide) of an improved type of crossing kit. If successful it is planned for introduction at two of the Dingwall crossings in 2018.
The bad news was made clear at a meeting I attended at ORR in April. Earlier articles in this series have dealt with a detailed set of recommendations from the Joint Law Commissions into the modernisation of the law governing LX matters. We were assured before the last Westminster election that the necessary primary legislation was expected during that Parliament. It appears that the DfT was less keen than it had earlier seemed, and nothing happened. We were then led to believe that time would be found in this Parliament. Then Brexit blew that out of the water. It is obvious that the legislative consequences of Brexit, and the unbelievable amount of time required to unpick the complex web of European legislation, and re-fasten it into UK law, will obliterate any possibility of any new law on any subject at all for this, and probably the next, Westminster Parliament. Would it be sensible for Holyrood to pass the necessary Scottish law first?
Mike has written a series of articles over several years about level crossings:
Locally monitored means there is a signal for train drivers to confirm the crossing is set and they have to confirm visually that it's safe.