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Railways - The North Line
19 December 06
FoFNL congratulates First ScotRail (FSR) on drawing up the new layout and Transport Scotland on finding the money to install new seats and to create more room for luggage and enable the carriage of four bicycles, rather than just two, in each two-car unit. This will be particularly welcome to long-distance cyclists carrying out the Lands End/John O'Groats marathon. FoFNL is pleased that seats are to be realigned with the windows giving passengers much needed extra legroom and improving the view of the stunning Highland scenery. FoFNL was grateful to be consulted by FSR and is pleased that many of its suggestions have been incorporated in one form or another. FoFNL regrets, however, that the toilets, while being much improved, will still discharge directly onto the tracks. We believe that an opportunity has been lost to remove this unhygienic and unsightly practice from another part of Scotland's rail fleet.
FoFNL understands that access for disabled passengers will be improved as will the working cab environment for drivers and conductors. The proof of all this will be found when the first refurbished unit is available for inspection. The new seats are critical to the comfort of passengers and the driver on journeys that can last for over four hours. The previous layout was designed for shorter commuting journeys and quite unsuitable for the longer distance. It is to be hoped that the introduction of first class seating will find a market particularly amongst business people and older people on the Far North Line. The provision also of a "Quiet Zone" would have been useful.
Looking to the future, FoFNL has recently inaugurated a campaign for the designing and building of a completely new train especially for the longer distance rural routes throughout Great Britain. This idea has found favour with many similar lines further south and FoFNL trusts that it will find favour soon with the Scottish Executive and Welsh Assembly Government and with the Department for Transport. Such a train would probably take about five years to fund, design and build.
9 November 2006
With the imminent important overhauls being carried out on the Class 158 DMU Sprinters we have taken the opportunity of preparing a wish list and after meetings with Andy Mellors, Deputy Managing Director, FSR have had most of our wishes accepted. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful in getting the major improvement to the toilets that we asked for and are continuing to pursue this topic.
We have also taken the opportunity of preparing a paper outlining our vision of a more suitable design of rolling stock for long distance tourist oriented rural lines and it met with considerable interest at the recent Association of Rail Partnerships conference.
We are holding our AGM in the Marine Hotel, Brora on 25 November starting at 14.15 with open presentations from Bill Reeve, Transport Scotland and Frank Roach, Development Manager, Highland Rail Partnership. The following business meeting will for be members only and starts at 15.30.
If our work is of interest to you then come along and take out membership on the day and help to contribute to the well-being of rail north of Inverness, or contact Mike Lunan on 01847 890911, or email@example.com for further details.
The text of many recent FoFNL submissions can be seen on our website www.fofnl.org.uk
SNP MSP Rob Gibson was commenting after he received a letter from England, Wales and Scotland railways about the future possibilities of transporting freight on the Far North Line.
The letter talks about the possible return of the Timber loading system at Kinbrace which was shelved last year because of cost implications. The letter also states that if EWS were to invest in wagons to carry the timber then they would require a long term commitment from the Forestry Commission you use rail for transport.
Mr Gibson welcomes the moves towards more freight on the railway..."It is encouraging to hear that the Kinbrace operation could restart soon it was a backwards step that it closed. The more freight on the rail the better and I would expect the Forestry Commission to commit long-term to rail transport of timber."
Mr Gibson was also was heartened to hear that EWS and John G Russell had managed to arrange that goods from Homebase would be transported by rail to Wick from Daventery within 24 hours of the request being made by Homebase.
"This is wonderful news and shows that it freight transport on rail can be easy and hassle free. I congratulate all concerned especially John G Russell on their speedy action and organisation to allow the goods to be transported by rail. This shows that more and more freight could potentially be transported North. I very much hope that Tesco's follows the lead of Homebase and the Forestry Commissions and moves more of its freight from the Road onto Rail.
He ended... However with increased rail usage the case for an improved rail line becomes all the stronger and the Scottish Government must consider the Caithness Community Councils Petition to the Scottish Parliament which calls for an upgrade to the Far North Line."
The event is being chaired by Christian Wolmar - Journalist and Rail Expert The keynote speaker is Tavish Scott MSP - Minister for Transport Scottish Executive
Other speakers confirmed
for the day are:
His reaction comes after Friends of the Far North Line made a submission to the consultation about a new transport users committee for Scotland expressing worries that the institution should focus on improving the country's bus, rail, ferry and air services. Their rationale behind this call is that cyclist and walkers of themselves do not use public transport and therefore their views and concerns should not fall in the remit of such a committee.
Mr Gibson says that the submission is short
sighted and counter
"I have heard anecdotal evidence of a
cyclist getting off the train near Carbisdale and cycling to Ullapool
because he couldn't get
He ended..."Whether people like it or not tourism is a major factor in the Far North economy and as fuel prices rise trains are going to become an even more important mode of transport, so inevitably it will bring more cyclists and walkers. FoFNL should be looking at ways to encourage that flow of people not the opposite."
Petitions committee has continued its scrutiny of the North Rail
Petition submitted by the Association of Caithness Community Councils
since it was submitted by the Association of Caithness Community Council
in November last year. Yesterday(Wednesday 8th March) the Committee
announced that it was sending the seven commissioned pieces of evidence
and 145 other submissions for comment by the original petitioners.
'A serious study of costs for all aspects of a full upgrade of the Far North rail line is urgently needed ,but I'm sure that Caithness Community Councils will send a clear message to Parliament when armed with the huge postbag the rail issue has attracted. I'm sure all parties will want to get behind the Association's wishes.'
However Mr Gibson was disappointed that the Highland Rail Partnership evidence neglected to quote the whole petition. In their submission the rail partnership said they were responding to petition from Caithness Community councils and then proceeded to quote part of the petition leaving out the last line which refers to providing a viable future to the Lairg loop.
Mr Gibson says the omission is bizarre....
" I can't understand why the Highland Rail partnership did not fully
quote the petition, it is an important part of the petition so it's
exclusion makes no sense at all. I sincerely hope that it was an
oversight by whoever typed out the evidence because it if was
deliberately left out to try and misrepresent the aims of the petition
then it is completely unprofessional."
Petition by The Association of Caithness Community Councils calling for the Scottish Parliament to consider investment in infrastructure, rolling stock and timetabling as part of a strategic root and branch review of the provision of rail services between Inverness, Thurso and Wick, with unrestricted thinking on how best to shorten journey times and ensure the continuing future of the railway to these destinations and calling for thought to be given to ensuring that the existing communities of the 'Lairg loop' are provided for.
Particularly welcome are the new 17.03 commuter train to Ardgay and the new 20.37 service to Tain that connects out of the GNER service from London and Edinburgh. The Friends will continue to lobby for this train to be extended through to Wick on Fridays to give a better weekend service to Caithness. Previous concerns about overcrowding will be lessened once the Invernet services commence. Hear about this and other topics at the Friends AGM in the Lovat Arms, Beauly at 11 o’clock.
The Scottish Executive's willingness to fund these extra services has ensured that First ScotRail now have the new train crews in place to start operations. With a range of very good value fares on offer, the new services will help to reduce some of the congestion which is building up in Inverness both in road space and in parking spaces.
Orkney MSP, Jim Wallace said, “The developments at the south end of the line, offering extra services, are welcome as is anything which helps to make the line more viable. Of course, with the line acting as an important link to the Pentland Firth ferry services to Orkney, I am keen to see these improvements built upon with more services running the full length of the line to Thurso offering better connections with the ferries.
“The quality of the service also needs to be improved, with investment in the track and rolling stock needed to give a faster and more comfortable service. Given the importance of the line to tourists, I also want to see it made more cyclist and backpacker friendly, with better provision made for bicycles and bulky luggage.
“Recent developments on the line have been positive steps forward, but more is needed if we are to get the level of service Orkney and Caithness deserve.”
The Friends are also delighted that Network Rail (NR) have recently completely relaid three miles of track near Altnabreac at a cost of around £3M. We are particularly keen that NR should act on the Office of Rail Regulation's recent injunction to "maintain routes to the published capability level at April 2001". This should mean endeavouring to rescind some of the extra minutes added to train schedules last June. This would be a welcome way to speed up journeys by about 15 minutes between Wick and Inverness.
We would like to see the Scottish Executive sanction a move to make the FNL trains "fit for purpose" by following the example of GNER who have added two inches of extra legroom on trains used on the four and a half hour journey from Edinburgh to London. Our trains were reconfigured to squeeze in the maximum number of passengers for Fife Circle commuter journeys and not surprisingly they are far too cramped for our four hour journeys as well as being short on luggage and bicycle space.
FoFNL has concerns that the new scheme to permit pensioners free travel on buses anywhere in Scotland will adversely affect the use of trains, and the scheme should be extended to trains as soon as possible. The Executive propose to pay the bus companies 73.6% of the full fare for every pensioner carried free. Extending the same terms and privileges to the Far North Line would enhance the earnings of the trains as well as giving pensioners a welcome choice. Our requested fourth train from Wick at 08.30, returning from Inverness at 14.00 would make this choice even better.
12 November 05
Speaking after he attended the launch of the report on Inspection, repair and maintenance of North Sea oil rigs which estimated that a potential £250 million could be made annually for up to the next 5 years Mr Gibson said "This is indeed good news however for Easter Ross to fully benefit from this large windfall then it needs to be served with the best of transport links. This is not just my concerns but those of potential customers. These concerns back up my call for an improved rail line from the Far North and also from the South."
"Widening of the Killiecrankie Tunnel to allow more freight to be transported from the South as well as an improved far North Rail Line are central if Easter Ross is to realise it's potential. It would be a small price to pay to gain maximum engineering and community benefit for those in Easter Ross and beyond."
"There needs to be a commitment from the Executive to make sure that each part of the Country benefits economically. Therefore if deficient rail links jeopardized a proposed project which would have major economic benefits to an area, then it is up to the Executive to make sure that those hurdles are cleared away."
Mr Gibson who has been a strong proponent of a shorter rail journey from the North welcomed the opportunity to put the case for improvements in the Far North...
"I pointed out that the biggest market for the Far North Line was in Caithness. I also countered John Farquhar Munro's assertion that there had been investment in the line by pointing out that journey times had increased to be the longest in Scotland and that the rolling stock that serves the far North is the poorest in Scotland."
He continued.."I put the case that if, as concluded in the Corus report, you could achieve parity between road and rail travel then you would see an increase in rail use on the far North Line. This, I imagine, is the reason why the Invernet service has been extended into central Sutherland."
Mr Gibson also asked the committee to make a comparative study of the cost of the M74 extension which runs into the hundreds of millions to that of improving the rail line throughout the Highlands.
"A Dornoch rail link, the widening of the Killiecrankie tunnel and the construction of the Orton loop would drastically improve rail transport in the Highlands at a fraction of the cost of the M74 extension. The question is whether there is a will from the Scottish Executive to make this happen."
He ended..."An improved far north rail line is imperative for the future of Caithness. A four hour rail journey will make the county an unattractive place to live and to set up business especially as road fuel costs continue to rise. There is a potential to attract more tourists to the far north with a shorter rail journey. An older population will mean increased useage and the weather cannot be relied upon to ensure that the roads are open or safe. We have already seen buses in ditches thanks to the icy conditions. An improved rail service that is safe, comfortable and affordable is what people in Caithness deserve."
"This is undoubtedly great news for those stations between Lairg and Inverness. It is good to see that the Scotrail have extended the area of the Invernet service and hopefully it will encourage greater use of the Train in Central Sutherland."
However he sounded a note of caution. "The track beyond Lairg remains a concern and there is at the moment little prospect of that journey time being slashed. It still takes over 4 hours from to get from Inverness to Wick, which is a disgrace and will not encourage rail use in the far North."
He went on... "The commitment that First Scotrail has shown to central Sutherland must be replicated by the Scottish Executive to North Sutherland and Caithness. A Dornoch rail crossing and major improvements to the line must take place if the line is to be viable in the 21st century."
Invernet Extension Proposals From 12
It was announced by Miss Dickson at the Highlands and Islands’ transport seminars and exhibition which was opened in Inverness by HRH Princess Royal. The “Invernet” service, to be launched on December 12, will comprise an early-morning return service between Inverness and Kingussie.
It is designed to allow commuters from Kingussie, Aviemore and Carrbridge to take the train into the Highland capital soon after 0800.
The train will also make five return trips along the Far North Line carrying leisure and homebound commuters to Beauly, Muir of Ord, Dingwall, Alness, Invergordon and, on most services, Fearn and Tain.
However, the existing 0709 Tain-Inverness commuter service will now be extended to start from Lairg at 0635 and will call at Invershin, Culrain and Ardgay.
In addition, the new 1703 Inverness-Tain will be extended to Ardgay and return from there to Inverness at 1912.
Tain was to have been the northern limit of the new commuter service devised by the Highland Rail Partnership to fill gaps in the timetable from the south in morning peak and the north in off-peak.
Miss Dickson said of the extended service: “It will enable mid-Sutherland residents to commute to Inverness as well as open up a new range of longer-distance connections.”
She acknowledged funding support from HITRANS, The Highland Council and Caithness and Sutherland Enterprise for the new service to and from Lairg.
The Invernet services are being launched to reflect Inverness as Scotland’s fastest growing city, and are part of First ScotRail’s franchise commitment.
At the Institution of Highways and Transportation seminars, Miss Dickson told of a renaissance in Scotland in transport.
She said the renaissance included levels of investment not seen in generations, and added that First ScotRail had delivered on promises since taking over the franchise in October last year.
Successes ranged from a 35 per cent improvement in the reliability of the train fleet to improved cleaning standards across stations and trains, but Miss Dickson stressed: “We are not resting on our laurels. There is still much to do.”
She acknowledged running times between Inverness and Thurso, and issues around ferry connections, were a concern in the Highlands, but added “We are working extremely hard with our industry partners and the Scottish Executive.
“I promise to keep the specific issues and
challenges for the Highlands at the forefront of First ScotRail’s agenda
and to take every opportunity to promote and develop rail in this
beautiful part of the world.
Councillor Magee added: “The new services will improve access for the rural hinterland by providing a rail alternative for commuting shopping and leisure trips to Inverness.
“The increased usage of rail services will play its part in alleviating traffic congestion which is becoming a serious concern in and around the Moray Firth area.”
Certainly those responsible for the movement of goods are happy to use rail so long as it is economic and efficient, meets the need and arrives on time. And of course rail freight has the massive bonus of bypassing roads congestion.
Sadly, however, besides the fact that the majority of freight movements are not suitable for rail, congestion is not restricted to the roads network. Increasingly the same situation applies to rail and, of course, passenger trains tend to enjoy priority over freight.
A recent research project by the Freight Transport Association together with the Rail Freight Group has found that unless there is substantial investment in the key rail bottlenecks during the next ten years, then potential transfer of freight from road to rail will be frustrated, thus further increasing the problems on the roads network.
The UK has the fourth largest economy in the world but our ability to grow, to the benefit of all of us, will be greatly inhibited if we fail to provide a road and rail network good enough to meet our needs. The sooner the Government faces up to that and takes action the better.
'A chance to make rail a top priority and the Far North Line at the top of the list' was how Highlands and Islands SNP MSP greeted remarks made by HIE Chief Willie Rowe in the Sunday papers.
Mr Rowe said that the Highlands and Islands needed a £300 million spent on it's transport infrastructure over the next ten years to meet the economic potential of the region.
MR Gibson welcomed the comments and said that it was an excellent opportunity for councillors and community groups to start lobbying the Government and HIE to make sure that improvements are made to the Far North Line....
"I will be contacting councillors and interested parties to try an co-ordinate an effort that applies pressure on the Scottish Executive to make them realise that improved North Line along those that were suggested by the Corus consultants' report are carried out as a priority."
He continued..."There is undoubtedly a ground swell of opinion both political, industrial and public that a two and half hour rail journey from Wick to Inverness would be a desirable goal. I have long believed in the benefits that the improvements would make. But now it is time to take the fight to another level and for the people of the North to make their voices heard, so that Mr Rowe and those in the Executive realise that this is a serious campaign."
"You need only look at the reopening of the Borders Railway to see that it can be done. The Executive are open to such schemes but it there needs to be a united voice to convince them of it's need. So CASE, RACE and HIE need to be convinced of the merits of such improvements to make them a priority so that they can in turn lobby for them. Railways can help meet climate change targets and at provide comfortable speedy travel for all ages."
At the Rail Passenger Committee meeting in
Dingwall last night
The announcement came during the evening question time at the last statutory rail passenger committee meeting in Dingwall which ended on Tuesday 24 May 2005.
Mr Gibson said,"The study will be critical as it will point out the deficiencies that exist in rail lines throughout the Highlands and unparticular those of the Far North Line."
He continued, "As one speaker put it the infrastructure of the Far North line is at best creaking and the signaling capacity was 'designed for a reducing railway'. A major overhaul of the line is needed to make it faster. That needs full consideration of a Dornoch Rail Bridge. Today it is very doubtful whether it can cope with extra traffic due to shortage of passing loops and increased train numbers for both passengers and freight."
"Distance poverty has always been a problem for the North however in the future it is going to become a greater burden, that is why the Scottish Executive should make the same commitment to Highland railways as the Government did to roads in the Highlands thirty years ago."
"Last week it was announced that a trip to
the Far North from
Mr Gibson received the response from Transport Minister Nicol Stephen during a question regarding the far North Line on Thursday in Parliament.
Mr Gibson asked the Minister whether he believed that improved rail infrastructure throughout the North of Scotland could shrink distance poverty and whether he agreed with AMICUS union in Thurso that the time has come for a full and proper investigation into the benefits that the Far North line brings to the Highlands and Orkney?
The minister responded by saying that a review would be carried out and that any MSP who wanted to present a case for upgrading of any rail line in Scotland should contact him.
Speaking after Rob said... "This announcement could be the catalyst that leads to the improvements that are desperately needed to bring the Far North Line into the 21st century. I have already given the Minister a copy of the Corus report that says that the time to travel from Inverness to Wick could be cut to just two hours, and I will continue to make the case for such a service."
he continued..."I welcome the move from the transport minister but it is up to the people of the Far North and all their political representatives to lobby the executive to make sure that the improvements happen".
Mr Gibson has been a long standing supporter of a faster rail network for the Far North and recently was involved in brining two rail consultants to the area to carry out a preliminary investigation into changes in the far North Line> ....
"The Corus rail report stated that a 2 hour journey from Inverness to Wick was achievable. I will be making sure that Arup are made aware of this report and will be pressing for them to undertake further investigations. The Far North deserves nothing less"
Copy of question Rob Gibson asked the
Transport Minister on 28/4/05
Nicol Stephen: As part of the development of the national rail strategy, we have, with the Strategic Rail Authority, commissioned a Scottish rail planning assessment. Ove Arup & Partners Scotland Ltd has been appointed as consultant for that work. It is considering future demand for the network and where the problems and further opportunities are that go beyond our current ambitious proposals for development of the network. I urge any MSP who has thoughts, ideas or proposals about this to contact me. That applies to the far north line and to rail improvements in all parts of Scotland. I will ensure that all proposals are fed into the development of the national strategy.
His call comes after he conducted a series of meetings with stakeholders in recent week. He has called public meetings in Wick and Lairg. A second meeting of which is planned (in Lairg)for May. He also met with the Cromarty Firth Port Authority, and developers that include; Forestry company Forscot and housing manufactures Robert Marshall Associates, who wish to use the line to transport raw materials and products.
He said..."Increases in the freight service will require far more passing places for longer trains. It will mean tunnel heightening between Inverness and Perth and it is up to HI-TRANS which meet in April to impress on the Scottish Executive that rail infrastructure funding will have to be put in place early in the rail plans for the 2007 to 2017 period if timber transport and other commodities are to be carried."
He continued...."I believe the need for a
strategic assessment of an express rail service for passengers to create
a two hour service from Caithness to Inverness is long overdue. But the
requirements for a modern freight service underlines the need to earmark
future EU Structure Funds to make up for lack of rail
He finished...."My soundings in the north
suggest a need for a rapid response from the Scottish Executive which
has funded many suburban rail routes in its current spending round. Now
the strategic importance of the North Highlands to the Scottish and
wider economies requires early assent to invest in rail in
Consultation At Scottish Executive
The Case For Speeding Up The Railway In