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Caithness News Bulletins November 2004
|December 2004 Index||November 2004 Index|
|Railways||Railways In Caithness|
SEA CHANGE IN RAIL INVESTMENT CALLED
Chairman, Richard Ardern, reviewed the past year in which his committee had published a comprehensive policy document detailing ways to improve the passenger and freight services on the Far North and its feeder lines through Inverness. These would include the reintroduction of a fourth daytime train between Wick and Inverness in both directions providing connections through Thurso to the retimed Orkney ferry, and the construction of the Georgemas Curve to save the five minutes "wasted" while the train reverses at Georgemas Junction.
He said that fitting this train, or any extra trains, in to the system of single track lines north of Perth and east of Aberdeen was a logistical nightmare because their capacity was nearing the maximum due to the current buoyancy of passenger and freight demand. It had proved impossible for example to find paths on the Inverness to Aberdeen line for football specials while Inverness Caledonian Thistle are playing their "home" games in Aberdeen.
That line had been cut back to the minimum required to operate the services of the Sixties and the radio signalling on the Far North Line had been planned to cope with the traffic of the Eighties. Little provision had been made for the upturn in traffic which has since happened such that future growth is now being seriously constrained at a time when the railway is playing an increasingly bigger role in ameliorating environmental problems such as those caused by road congestion in Inverness.
He called for a rolling programme to construct extra passing loops and strategic stretches of double track to allow an expansion of the numbers of passenger and freight trains that the three lines in to Inverness can cope with. He also called for a longer term vision in the way the benefits brought by such schemes are assessed. The present accounting systems of discounted cash flow, cost benefit and STAG appraisals require huge benefits to accrue in too short a timescale. The present study to expand transport infrastructure between Inverness and Nairn to meet the huge developments proposed for that corridor in the local plan would likely be stillborn unless it is realised that the infrastructure has to go in first.
Apart from redoubling the Perth line over Druimuachdar and reinstating some loops to cope with the increased North Sea oil related traffic in the Seventies, the Highland lines have had no track and few signalling capacity improvements. The present Scottish Executive has begun to greatly increase investment in public transport provision and this is much to be welcomed. It is a fact, rather than sour grapes, to say that this is happening on a much greater scale in central Scotland and Mr Ardern made a call for A Highland Counties Rail Track Scheme to be established to advance substantial track and signalling enhancements on Highland railway lines. The former Crofter Counties Roads Programme had done so much to improve the economy of the Highlands and Islands by doubling strategic roads and it was now time to do something to reduce the stranglehold the legacy of single track lines was having on the railways' potential role in environmentally friendly passenger and freight transport.
The Chairman stated that the group was looking forward to seeing the outcome of a study carried out to ascertain the feasibility of the Dornoch link between Tain and Golspie. It is hoped that this will provide facts on the line of route to be followed and the likely cost to be involved. This would then allow the Friends of the Far North Line to ascertain if it was a credible scheme likely to gain active funding support from the Executive to take the proposal for a direct line across the Dornoch Firth further.
The meeting was then addressed by Ron MacAulay, Route Director, Scotland for Network Rail. He outlined the changes that had taken place since the inception of Network Rail 2 years ago and what their plans were for maintenance and renewals of track and other infrastructure in Scotland. He acknowledged the problems being experienced by those responsible for the operation of the Far North Line and explained that specification of any major track enhancements in the North should soon be the remit of the Scottish Executive rather than being decided in London.
The meeting concluded with Frank Roach giving a summary of his work as Highland Rail Development Officer over the past 12 months and outlining some initiatives which were being worked on for the future such as cycle storage at stations. His “Invernet” initiative to serve Kingussie and Tain has sadly been delayed by the Franchise changeover and is now likely to start in December 2005.
THE FRIENDS OF THE FAR NORTH LINE - Policy Document
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
President: John Thurso MP
The campaign group for rail north of Inverness, lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight customers.
Policy Aims for Future Rail Services.
The policy aims which follow are all achievable within a reasonably short time scale, but come at a cost. This may be a capital or a running cost, or both. How acceptable such costs will be to Government and to taxpayers will depend on various factors, not least the ability of the Government and the railway industry to get costs back under control and to show that railway services do give value for money.
On the other hand, we can argue that on Highland lines, some of these costs have been reduced to such a level that the dependability of services, and hence passenger confidence, have been compromised. That is not the way to run the railway or indeed any service to the public.
It is important not to look at railway services too narrowly in terms of their costs. It is important to consider also the benefits railway services provide to the local economy in both economic and social terms. The recent Steer, Davies, Gleave report on the value of rail to the Highlands has elucidated some of these issues.
The policy document below is not an uncosted immediate wish list. It merely states our position on many of the improvements which could be made to the Far North Line and connecting train services through Inverness if there is the will to do so.
We are highly encouraged that the Scottish Executive have provided funding for the Invernet scheme. We hope that their expected new powers over track and signalling infrastructure will enable delivery of improvements such as the Georgemas curve and the Orton loop to enable speedier and more frequent services on the lines concerned. We would urge them now to turn their attention to more suitable trains to provide greater passenger comfort and much more space for luggage (including back packs) and cycles. To this end, we would like to see a really good new design of rural train for the Far North Line (among others) and a new HST 125 comfort equivalent train for the inter city routes from Inverness to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Rail travel is finding an increasing market. It has a bright future, particularly if the right investment decisions are made and all players focus on providing the passenger with an enjoyable travel environment and experience.
1. Passenger Services.
2. Passenger Rolling Stock
4. Infrastructure Improvements.
5. Fares and Marketing.
6. Freight policy.
b). Services to be provided.
Policy approved 11 May 2004.