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Railways - The  North Line

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Dornoch Rail Link Action Group

29 January 07
Dornoch Rail Link Action Group Submission in response to the HITRANS draft regional transport strategy
"We ask for immediate and clear recognition of the necessity of rail upgrades to Caithness and Sutherland, and look forward to clear definite commitments to the Dornoch Link, and other Far North Line improvements, in the formal issue of the HITRANS regional transport strategy to the Scottish Executive"

9 January 07
Friends of the Far North Line (FoFNL) response to the
HITRANS Regional Transport Strategy Consultation

The link above will take you to word doc showing the response by FoFNL to the HITRANS Consultation

If anyone would like to submit their own response the deadline is 31st January 2007.

19 December 06
Tavish Scott's Announcement Today About rail spending
Friends of the Far North Line (FoFNL) has given a cautious welcome to plans announced by the Transport Minister Tavish Scott to make significant improvements to the interiors of the 17-year-old class 158 trains used between Inverness, Wick and Aberdeen.

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
Friends Of the Far North Line - November 2006 Update

The Friends of the Far North Line have been busy recently responding to important policy documents relating to rail in the Highlands. The Room for Growth reports were commissioned by HIE and carried out by consultants Scott Wilson and Halcrow. They concentrated on Highland lines evaluating the benefits of improvements that could be made to the rail service. The Rail Utilisation Strategy was carried out by Network Rail and specifically covered the lines east and south of Inverness with little reference to the north line.

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 mikelunan@btinternet.com  for further details.

The text of many recent FoFNL submissions can be seen on our website www.fofnl.org.uk

22 May 06
Gibson in Rail Freight Plea
And Homebase Goods To Come In To Wick By Rail

Increased rail freight to the far North is the future and is possible according to a North MSP.

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."

23 April 06
Rail 2006 - The Future of Rail -
The Challenge for Britain's Railways
Conference 25 May 2006 - Birmingham
The Future Of Rail - Download the white paper
The Future Of Rail - Download the summary

This important one-day conference and exhibition will hear the views of all the key players in rail - those facing the challenges to the railways and those now in charge of making the new vision a reality. Rail 2006 will act as a great forum for debate bringing together important figures from government bodies, passenger and freight operating companies, infrastructure
managers and suppliers from across the uk.

Delegate places for Rail 2006 - The Future of Rail are going fast. To ensure your place please call Mike Agnew on 0161 832 6000 or online at www.rail2006.co.uk

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:
* Alistair Carmichael MP - Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
* Alan Francis - Green Party Transport Spokesperson
* Lord Faulkner of Worcester - All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group - Vice President Transport 2000 - Chairman - Railway Heritage Association
* Lord Tony Berkley - Chairman - Rail Freight Group
* Adrian Lyons CBE - Director General - The Railway Forum
* Richard Clifton - Head of United Kingdom Delegation, Channel Tunnel Safety Authority
* Bert Massie - Chairman - Disability Rights Commission
* Howard Smith - Chief Operating Officer, London Rail, TfL
* Anton Valk - Chief Executive of NedRailways
* Chief Inspector David Dickason - British Transport Police
* Bernard Gambrill - Head of Public Affairs - Cross London Rail Links Ltd
* Chris Boyce - Business Development Director - Dedicated Micros

22 April 06
Gibson 'scunnered' by FoFNL stance on cyclists and walkers

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson says he is scunnered by the call from a rail lobby group that cyclists and walkers should not be represented on the new public transport forum in Scotland.

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
productive...."I cannot believe that this is a serious suggestion. One of the major draw backs of the Far North Rail Line is not just the 4 hour plus service and high cost but also the fact that there are only two spaces for bikes on trains. So it is no wonder that cyclists do not use the train. People may want to cycle from Lands End to John o' Groats but I am willing to bet that after that marathon they would be more willing to take a train back south as opposed to another gruelling cycle ride, the same goes for walkers."

"I have heard anecdotal evidence of a cyclist getting off the train near Carbisdale and cycling to Ullapool because he couldn't get
spot for his bike to Caithness. FoFNL should be encouraging the use of trains on the line therefore they should see that cyclists and walkers as integral users of public transport and most definitely trains. It is this type of closed thinking that impinges badly on the tourist trade and business of the far north and I am still trying to work out their reasoning."

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."

9 March 06
Gibson Welcomes Overwhelming Amount Of North Rail Petition Evidence

SNP MSP For the Highlands and Islands Rob Gibson has welcomed the huge response made by transport groups and others to the petition from Association of Caithness Community Councils for an upgrade of the Far North Rail Line.

Holyrood's Public 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.
Rob said... ' I'm sure all north MSPs are delighted that the Petition attracted such a huge postbag of 145 individual submissions.  These are over and above those responses officially sought by the Petitions committee and shows the will of people that something be done."
'These detailed comments come from the Scottish Executive, Network Rail, the Highland Rail Partnership, Friends of the Earth Scotland, First Scotrail, the Friends of the Far North Line and Railfuture Scotland.  He went on 'I'm sure that the Petitions committee consider this an important step to allow the Petitioners a chance to comment further before the Holyrood committee decides on the next moves for its further scrutiny in Parliament.

'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."
Text of petition words in bold were left out of the Highland Rail Partnership response.

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.

Consultation At Scottish Executive
Deadline for Submissions 28 December 2005

Towards a transport strategy for Scotland: consultation on rail priorities
Any member of the public can make representation about the rail strategy.  If you want to record you views on any part of it for example the journey times from Inverness to Wick, the state of rolling stock or anything connected to Scottish Railways now is your chance.  You can email your response.

The Case For Speeding Up The Railway In The North
This is a report that appeared in newspapers by journalist James Henderson formerly editor of the Northern Times. The report outlines the main points put to a public meeting held in Wick.

Corus Report
A proposal for a Strategic Assessment Study of the Far North Railway. This would be an innovative study looking at the opportunities for investment in infrastructure improvements to shorten the rail journey times and enhance the line’s capacity. The study would look at the tangible benefits for the people of Sutherland, Caithness and Orkney.  The study would consider the whole route from Inverness to Wick and Thurso. The study would look at the market demand for rail services and how it could be supported in an enhanced timetable.

Earlier North Line Railway Items


That it takes twice as long to go by train between Inverness and Thurso/ Wick as it does to drive, with train journey times between Inverness and Thurso/Wick lasting over four hours on average, compared to just over two hours by car?

 That it has been proven possible by independently and professionally researched studies from Corus Rail Infrastructure Services, an internationally renowned firm of rail engineering consultants, that a single major project, the Dornoch Rail Link, can reduce Caithness – Inverness rail journey times to below 3 hours in some cases?

 That it is possible to shorten this rail journey down to 2 hours 30 minutes with further reductions on the existing Line?

 That a Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidelines (STAG) Part 1 study has proven that the Dornoch Rail Link has “the greatest merit on the initial STAG 1 appraisal in meeting the widest range of the Government’s objectives. It should go forward to be appraised at STAG 2 level”?

 That this scheme has recently been supported, by the Scottish Parliamentary Petitions Committee and Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee as part of the Association of Caithness Community Councils’ Petition to the Scottish Government for major Far North Line improvements?

 That major improvements to the Far North rail line can significantly help the far North overcome over 3000 job losses and replace £80 million per year income arising from the Dounreay closedown?

 That it has been independently recognised by HITRANS that major transport infrastructure improvements are necessary for fully realising the economic potential for the Highlands, including Caithness? The Dornoch Rail Link would qualify as such.

 Do you wish to reverse decades of neglect and investment starvation on the Far North Line, and help upgrade our line to meet 21st century expectations and needs?

Then write to you local MP, MSP or councillor and demand that he/she supports radical improvements to the Far North Line. Help us lobby Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government for this desperately necessary upgrade!

Join the Dornoch Rail Link Action Group to help us take this forward. Visit our website at www.dorlag.co.uk to obtain an application form. Tell your family and friends!

Dornoch Rail Link Action Group
Highland Rail Partnership

See Also
Flying News