The Review Team set up by Fergus Ewing last December met for the third time on 9 May. At that meeting ScotRail's representatives laid before us suggestions for a significant change to the delivery of a robust (and improved) timetable for the FNL. We liked it. Go away and put flesh on these bones, we said. This will take several months, they said. That's fine, we said, no hurry. The fourth meeting has not yet taken place at the time of writing.
If you had bet me a year ago whether I could have written a paragraph as optimistic and positive as that one you would not have had a taker.
Over the 23 years since FoFNL was formed it has promoted itself as a critical friend of the railway. Further south (where else could they be?) rail user groups and individual campaigners have castigated the railway (in Scotland and furth of Scotland) as being, in varying degrees, woeful. That doesn't work. The Glasgow Crossrail isn't being built. FoFNL has achieved significant wins: controlled-emission toilets on the 158s where fitting such gadgetry was thought to be impossible; getting a fourth train each way into the timetable; re-opening stations at Beauly (in the face of considerable opposition from the safety folk who thought that passengers were too stupid to work out how to use a short platform) and Conon Bridge. I hope very much that the list will go on. The words "Lentran" and "Loop" figure constantly in my prayers. Of course FoFNL has not achieved any of this on its own. We have worked with stakeholders, not least HITRANS, and we have demonstrated to the industry in all its guises that we are On Their Side. That's what critical friends do. And what critical friends get in return is usually Results.
The January Headcode will be the last - no, really, I mean it - the last Headcode I shall write. In it I hope to be able to share with you ScotRail's plans for the revised - no, the improved - timetable (faster trains, free whisky*), and Network Rail's plans to get chaps with shovels to do good things in the Lentran area. Fingers crossed, all of you.
* either will be satisfactory
FoFNL held its AGM and Annual Conference in inverness on 23 June. Those attending the Conference heard a video address from Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity. Speakers included Tony Glazebrook, Director of Aliona Ltd, who produced the report last year into what was needed on the FNL, thus giving FoFNL the professional clout to press the industry (and its funders) to address the issues with urgency. Bill Reeve, Head of Rail at Transport Scotland outlined Scottish Ministers' view that the FNL was, and remains, a vital part of the nation's strategic rail network. Alex Hynes, MD of the ScotRail Alliance and Alex Sharkey, Head of Operations of Network Rail's Scotland Route, told us what was planned for the Far North Line. We heard of the work carried out by the Review Team set up by Fergus Ewing last December to bring together the industry and stakeholders, including FoFNL, to identify short- and medium-term actions to improve the service. This will bring a faster timetable in December this year, with more improvements in 2018 as work at level crossings allows line-speeds to be raised.
FoFNL looks forward to the HLOS in July, and to having more detail towards the end of the year when the Investment Plan is unveiled. To keep us excited until then we await the outcome of the consultation presently being undertaken about the commercial viability of a new Sleeper service between Thurso (for Orkney) and Edinburgh using the stock which will become redundant when the new trains are delivered. Never a dull moment!