This issue of Far North Express contains much good news, a good counterbalance to the rigours of Covid-19 and the shock of the accident at Carmont on 12 August.
Our sympathy goes out to those involved in the accident, especially to the wife of the train driver who has had to endure some awful media coverage, not least from the BBC which should know better.
The emptiness of our trains during the pandemic has obvious consequences for the industry. We hope that the message is soon understood that travelling by train is nothing like as risky as many believe. Research has shown a 1 in 11,000 risk of catching Covid-19 whilst on a train journey. Passengers need to feel confident about this, and it is to be hoped that a successful vaccine is available soon. We should not subscribe to the gloomy predictions that life will never be the same again.
On to the good news: work on the FNL Review Team recommendations has now restarted and we have been given a detailed list of current progress which makes us smile. Network Rail's purchase of property needed to clear the land ready for the construction of a real Transport Hub beside Inverness Station also brought us much cheer and we commend Frank Roach for his indefatigable determination to make this happen. And finally...thanks to Frank again... a trial is underway to prove how well railways handle timber transport. We are very much hoping that this will convince Norbord to go ahead with installing a siding at their Inverness factory. We see that the "Screening Application" currently in place for the proposed station at nearby Dalcross also mentions the siding.
It is worth noting too that all these excellent developments would be impossible without the support of Transport Scotland which is the envy of our peers 'down South'!
Talking of which, TS has now published its Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan which, we are delighted to note, includes eventual electrification to Tain - something inconceivable until recently.
All lines connecting Scotland's 'Seven Cities' are to be electrified. This will make a huge difference, especially to the Highland Main Line with its steep gradients. We have passed on our emphatic wish that, if electrification takes place before double-tracking, all design and build work is done with double track in mind. Bridge replacement and the positioning of OLE masts must be done correctly. The fiasco of de-scoping the Borders Railway and actually building new single-track bridges must not be repeated.
We hope that when considering the First Minister's Programme for Government on 1 September, MSPs will have appreciated the need for rebalancing rail infrastructure plans to aid areas such as the Highlands, which are in dire need of upgrading, so that double-tracking is achieved as soon as possible.