Coinciding with the start of a new Holyrood session, our May magazine has now been published.
It is also available now online, published there a month later than the printed copy, as always.
Copies have now been posted to our members. If you'd like a copy yourself, and are not yet a member, you could join right now - just visit our membership page. New members also receive a complimentary copy of our 25th Anniversary book, FoFNL 25, which normally costs £5.
As always, we have assembled interesting articles stretching in time from the 150th anniversary of the opening of the "Duke of Sutherland's Railway" (Reaching Helmsdale on the Far North Line), to the latest news, as well as a 'report' on the Scottish Government's achievements since 2007 for rail in the Highlands.
If you're looking for something to read, we have copies of this issue as well as our previous three editions available for purchase at £3.00 to cover UK p+p.
If you live outside the UK, please email for a price.
|FNE 80 - May 2020||FNE 81 - September 2020||FNE 82 - January 2021||FNE 83 - May 2021|
Now that the new Government is in place we hope that all the MSPs remember the election pamphlet we sent them at the start of the campaign.
We asked all 409 candidates who received a copy of the pamphlet to let us know that they understood the need for rapid progress in the building of essential infrastructure for the railways in the Highlands. We received a 3.4% response rate, which was pretty disappointing. Perhaps all the candidates did understand, but were too busy campaigning to let us know.
It was gratifying for us, as an apolitical campaign group, that the expressions of support came from all parties, with LibDem, Conservative and SNP evenly split, one Labour response but nothing from any Green candidate.
Since posting this we have been told that Ariane Burgess, the lead Scottish Green Highlands and Islands candidate, had in fact sent us a message of support on behalf of all the Green candidates - somehow it had gone missing!
In any case the Scottish Green Party has always understood what needs to be done, as shown by their excellent Rail For All report.
At this moment the best thing the Scottish Government could do for railways in Scotland is to put aside politics and adopt Rail For All as policy!
Our AGM & Conference were due to be held on Friday 18th June in Dingwall. At this moment it is impossible to tell whether Covid restrictions will have been eased enough to allow such a gathering, therefore we have postponed the event to 1 October.
The intention is to keep to the same venue, Ross County Football Club, but we will find out in June, once the fixtures lists are made, whether that will be possible. If not we will try and find another suitable venue in Dingwall.
May's Holyrood parliamentary election was the first since the Climate Emergency was declared in 2019.
FoFNL sent an 8-page pamphlet to all the candidates from the five main parties to try and re-focus their minds onto rail.
Scottish Government policy is currently to achieve modal shift from road to rail. However, its actions show that it prioritises very costly road widening schemes in the Highlands and North-East Scotland over upgrading the main intercity routes out of Inverness. Apart from the recent 16 miles of conversion of the Inverness-Aberdeen route to double-track, these lines currently have significantly less capacity than they did at the end of the 19th Century.
The probable £10,000 million being spent on widening two roads, which are already two-directional all the way along, unlike the railways which are single-track with very few passing places, would have made an enormous improvement to these intercity railways.
The safety justification for dualling the A9 and A96 has a hollow ring when you take into account the fact that the introduction of average speed cameras on the A9 has produced a 77% reduction in fatalities, and rail is many times safer than road; there were 168 road deaths in 2019 (most recent available figures) and no rail deaths. The three fatalities at Carmont in 2020 were the first in Scotland for 13 years.
This report by Deltix Transport Consulting was commissioned by the Scottish Green Party to produce wide-ranging proposals for the railways of Scotland. This is the kind of 'big thinking' that we think is necessary. It is a 'can-do' approach.
Transform Scotland, of whom FoFNL is a member, has joined forces with Paths for All, RSPB Scotland, Sustrans Scotland, and WWF Scotland, to send a strongly-worded call to the Scottish Government to act on its declared policy of modal shift from road to rail, and to abandon its incompatible plans, including dualling the A9 and A96.
The letter is in response to the government's draft Infrastructure Investment Plan. The reasons for sending it are explained in the Transform blog.
Whilst FoFNL is an apolitical organisation, we can only applaud this campaign which has been set up by the Scottish Green Party to persuade the Scottish Government to act on the promise it made in 2008 to invest properly in the Highland Main Line.
The government protests that it has been investing in the line. This is true - £57m has been spent on extending a couple of passing loops and modernising some signalling. This does not compare well with the £3bn currently being spent on dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness.
It is the railway that needs to be dualled as most of it is 'single-track-with-passing-places', hardly the kind of infrastructure you would expect the government to provide between its cities, especially having declared a 'climate emergency'.
The campaign can be found here. Please follow the link and fill in the form to send the Minister a message. Forget party politics, this is bigger than that.
This is not a local issue either. We support this because it is the rail route passengers use to get to the Far North Line from most of Scotland and further south.
Somehow the Scottish Government needs to realise that it has obligations, as declared in 2008 by the then First Minister on a visit to Inverness, referring to the HML, "Railways must at least compete with the roads."
Transport Scotland has published the Scottish Government's Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan.
We are very pleased to see all this in print now, showing the government's commitment to removing the use of fossil fuels from the railway as far as possible by 2035.
We were aware that electrification to Tain was being considered - it won't happen for quite a long time, but it's good to see it in print. A copy of the Plan is available here.
It is vital now to convince ministers and other MSPs that the Highland Main Line and the Inverness-Aberdeen line are doubled before being electrified. It would become a much more expensive process after electrification, unless full provision was made for double-track bridges etc, as well as avoiding placing masts where the additional track will be.
HITRANS has commissioned SYSTRA to undertake a review of the current operation of, and investment in, the Highland Main Line (HML) between Perth and Inverness. This report seeks to understand the possible interventions required to address journey time and connectivity issues that previous investments have not resolved.
This is well worth a read. The ground it covers will be familiar to readers of FoFNL's magazine since the HML shortcomings are a major topic in every issue!
You can read it here.
FoFNL has now added the option to pay for membership using PayPal.
This means you can join us without having to fill in an application form and post it!
Just to remind you, we offer one year's membership for £15.00, continuous membership for £12.00 per annum and Life membership for £120.00. All can be purchased at the click of a button.
If you're not yet a member please head to our joining page now!
All new members receive a free copy of FoFNL 25 while stocks last!
FoFNL has published a 76pp A5 book to mark the 25th anniversary of its formation.
The book contains articles written specially, a 'timeline' of excerpts from our magazines/newsletters and other documents, and some pages of beautiful photographs of the line.
It gives an idea of what rail campaigning consists of - and how long it can sometimes take for things to come to fruition!
It is available directly from us, priced £5.00 including p+p.
If you do not wish to purchase using PayPal please either send an email to email@example.com and make a BACS payment to:
Acc no: 00358919
Sort code: 80-91-26
IBAN: GB11 BOFS 8091 2600 3589 19
using your name as reference,
or post a cheque, payable to Friends of the Far North Line for £5.00 to:
3 Villafield Loan
Last week the long-awaited Far North Line Review Team Report was signed off by ministers and its plans published by Transport Scotland.
Because of the way projects are now managed, the main infrastructure work is not listed in detail as it is still going through early development work. Unlike previous Control Periods where projects were announced by Transport Scotland before some of the detailed work had been done, and were therefore at risk of running over budget, definite commitment will now be given once all the costs are known. This is the 'pipeline' approach, where projects which will be started in the current Control period (CP6) are not yet officially committed.
From the point of view of campaigners, such as FoFNL, this can be frustrating. Suffice to say at this point that, given that the likely cost of the works outlined in the Report is already known, and that the whole new service specification (timetable and service pattern) which has been agreed in the Report depends on the infrastructure work being done, it is hard to see a scenario in which it will not take place. We just hope it's pretty soon!
FoFNL now has a page on Facebook.
We are hoping our page will stimulate interest in what we do and the Far North Line in general. Please have a look at our page, like it (if you do!) and share it with your friends.
The Scottish Natural Heritage website used to carry some excellent audio guides to the Far North Line. They were in MP3 format and were ideal for listening to on the train.
We now have them hosted on our site.
If you are travelling along the Far North Line you might like to enhance your journey by downloading our guide, written by Richard Ardern, one of our committee members and very prolific article writer for Far North Express!
The Guide is in .pdf format so you will be able to follow it on any smartphone or tablet.
The Friends of the Far North Line is the campaign group for rail north of Inverness, lobbying for improved services for local users, tourists and freight.
Our website will give you an insight to FoFNL's successes and concerns. You will find a complete collection of newsletters dating back to 1998 as well as an archive of interesting documents.
This is a map of the Far North Line which is situated in the northernmost part of Scotland. Hovering the pointer over the name of a station will display a local photo.
Our aims include:
Our 1995 conference for rail interests was the precursor of the Highland Rail Partnership a collaborative body spanning the Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, local Enterprise companies, rail operators, the Friends Groups and others.
Campaigning successes include the Easter Ross commuter train, Beauly and Conon Bridge stations, all-year Sunday trains, initiating the re-introduction of significant freight, the transporting of extremely long lengths of pipe to Wick, and the building of a footbridge alongside the Shin Viaduct. A substantial increase in freight is still needed and we will continue to persuade haulage contractors that there is an alternative to driving long distances over inadequate roads. Perhaps our most surprising, and gratifying, achievement was persuading the powers-that-be that retention toilets could be fitted to the Class 158 trains - having been assured it would be impossible!
In the mid 1980s there was a proposal to include railway in the A9 Dornoch Firth Crossing, thereby shortening the route of the line by around 25 miles. This did not come to fruition and FoFNL takes the view that the money needed for such a project now will not become available.
We continue to seek shortened journey times and hourly services between Inverness and Tain. We aim to work in partnerships, we publish a thrice yearly Newsletter, we are democratically governed through our AGM and a geographically representative committee.
If you would like to join The Friends of The Far North Line please download, print out and complete the application form. If you prefer, you can phone our Membership Secretary on +44 (0)1334 475311. Annual membership is only £15.00 (£12.00 if you set up a standing order) for individuals and £17.00 for corporate or organisation membership.
Jamie Stone MP
Joint Vice Presidents:
Rhoda Grant MSP
Maree Todd MSP
Hon. Secretary (Co-opted until next AGM):
29, Ethelwulf Road
36 Learmonth Place
Richard Ardern, Inverness
Mike Lunan, Thurso
Iain MacDonald, Alness
David Spaven, Edinburgh
Malcolm Wood, Ardgay
The photo of Culrain station was taken by Peter Van Den Bossche and the photo of Altnabreac by Dennis Troughton. Both are used under the Creative Commons Licence.