It is remarkable that in these economically straitened times MSPs of almost all parties are content to continue with the albatross of A9 and A96 dualling round the neck of transport investment.
The passion with which demand to spend a massive proportion of a limited budget on these projects is expressed is completely out of kilter with the situation we are in.
As described in this issue, the Welsh Government takes a very different, and more enlightened view.
The Far North Line, along with our neighbouring routes, is in need of quite a lot of investment to bring it to a position where travellers are happy to give up their cars and use the railway. It is not necessary here to enumerate all the shortcomings of the infrastructure, especially in terms of capacity and journey time, yet it seems an endless task to convince those who represent us. While Scottish Government policy is to bring about very significant modal shift towards rail, both passenger and freight, there is little evidence that the decision makers themselves realise what this involves. The Rail Directorate of Transport Scotland has a very clear view of the task but is completely constrained by financial decisions imposed by the Government, which of course is made up of individual MSPs - if only they demonstrated the same passion for investing in rail as so many of them do for road widening.
Additionally, the Highlands always struggle to be treated on a par with the heavily populated areas of Scotland. As Kate Forbes MSP said during her SNP leadership campaign, "We cannot be the party that just delivers for the Central Belt. You're either a party that delivers for all of Scotland, and therefore maintains trust and continues with ongoing election success, or not." Unfortunately election success may also seem to some MSPs to be tied to keeping on-side members of the public unwilling to participate in modal shift. Bravery on this issue is required from our elected representatives.
The FNL's most useful and largest current project is the building of the Delmore Loop, something for which FoFNL has been campaigning since 2005 when 25 mins was added permanently to the end-to-end timings to improve reliability. This was agreed to be a necessity in the findings of the FNL review Team which reported in 2019. Here we are 18 years since campaigning began and four years since the basic decision was made, and the latest news is that Network Rail is still working up an outline design and costs for the loop which will be submitted to Transport Scotland in the middle of the year for authority and funding for construction. Worryingly it seems that the building of the loop is now seen as part of the package of work to enable an enhanced passenger service pattern on the line and the possible extra costs of that venture will be used as part of the decision to build the loop. FoFNL's campaign was always about service reliability and freight capacity, essential to the achievement of modal shift.
This year's AGM & Conference will be held on Friday 23 June, in Timespan, Helmsdale, a few minutes walk from the station.
The day begins with our AGM for FoFNL members at 10:30. Our Conference follows at 11:15 and is open to the public.
This year we have three guest speakers covering various aspects of railways:
There will be plenty of opportunities for questions and there is a cafeteria at the venue.
Unfortunately for us, Frank Roach, who usually concludes the conference by giving us an update on the work of HITRANS, will be in London at a Modern Railways event, so his report will be read out.
Please note: This year's papers will be sent out by email. If you wish for a hard copy please contact Ian Budd.