limbus (small l) is the Latin for border. Limbus (graced with a capital) in classic times was the border of Hell. In limbo therefore meant waiting - as those on the border of Hell were supposed to be waiting for admission (doubtless in no great hurry).
The railway generally is in limbo, waiting for parliamentary time to ease the massive freight train that is the proposed structure of the post-Williams railway out onto the main line, where progress might be expected to take place. Pandora would caution the more excitable of his readers not to give in to their driving emotion. Far sexier things than this elephant in the room will divert the attention of Ministers while this Parliament lasts. And there is no evidence that an incoming Labour Government will not wish to do its own tinkering.
But up here - are things different? A few months ago one might have been confident that they were: as they usually have been. After all, funds have been made available for several years for upgrades, station openings, electrification and so on. But lately: silence. Pandora is well aware that funds are tight, that competing claims for a bit of spending are loud, and coming from sources likely, were they given more publicity, to sell newspapers. It is the ambition of all railway managers that the railway is dull, as far as news is concerned. That means trains on time and of a standard which no-one is complaining about - everything doing what it's meant to do without excitement. Nothing to see here.
But occasionally the lack of news isn't good news. A great deal of time - and therefore money, if on no more than staff salaries - has been spent on plans for improvements to the service and infrastructure on the Far North Line. The Review Team set up by Fergus Ewing MSP in December 2016 published its conclusions a little under three years later. Much of what is in it has been delivered, but the higher-hanging fruit remains on the tree, tantalisingly visible, but still out of reach. Preliminary work has been carried out to replace some double track between Inverness and Beauly, but the money to complete the installation seems yet to be provided. Have the plans to centre the operation of six trains a day at Helmsdale been abandoned?
Pandora, no longer of an age to count down the sleeps until Santa arrives, can cope with bad news: if things promised can no longer be delivered he can live with that. A little grumbling might ensue, but sleep will not be lost. Waiting however, in limbo, isn't fun.
To add a little perspective to the amount of time this process has been taking, here are some extracts from an editorial carried by the Ross-shire Journal at the end of 2017 (five years ago!) in response to fares increases announced then:
"Given the well-publicised problems with train reliability, rail passengers in Ross-shire will feel more than a little aggrieved at the idea that fares are on the rise yet again. The frustration is almost palpable...the trains are simply not reliable enough for locals to consider them instead of the car.
"The problem partly stems from the limited places in which trains can pass each other on these mainly single-track routes.
"One of the solutions is simple and not overly expensive to implement. Reinstalling the "Lentran Loop" [now the "Delmore Loop"] would be a significant step forward - a section of track between Beauly and Inverness which was once dualled before someone in their infinite wisdom decided to rip up one of the tracks for scrap. But, as short-sighted as it was, the presence of the remaining track has ensured that the land is still unused - and therefore ripe for a little track-laying investment.
"Rail operators have defended the price rise, saying it will help them to reinvest in the railways. How about you start by sending some of that cash our way please? It might make the cost a little easier to swallow."