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DORNOCH RAIL LINK ACTION GROUP - Spring 2013 newsletter - Part Two

26th April 2013

Photograph of DORNOCH RAIL LINK ACTION GROUP - Spring 2013 newsletter - Part Two

Hon. President Revd. Alistair Roy BD
Newsletter - Mark Norton

Spring Newsletter
Part Two - Far North Line

10. Firstly, we should begin this section by welcoming the re-opening of Conon Bridge Station, for which John Moore should be given due credit for his suggestion and work towards this project. This gives a welcome and necessary alternative means of travel to and from Inverness, particularly given the roadworks on the Kessock bridge, which I experienced. Nevertheless, station reopenings and other improvements on our Line must not be done at the expense of lengthening the already far too long journey times to and from Caithness.

11. We have received assurances from First Scotrail that the timings of the northern services will not be affected by the introduction of Conon Bridge station on the line here. Nevertheless, pressure is needed to ensure that journey times continue to be reduced on the Far North Line. We have already made contact with our local Parliamentary representatives to press for journey time improvements on our Line, which is not unreasonable when one considers the massive amount of money being spent on rail and road improvement schemes both in Scotland and England. Previous newsletters have already touched on the Great Western and Midland Main Line electrification schemes in England. Comment has also been made on the proposed high speed rail link between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and there are schemes to improve the Highland Main Line and the Inverness Aberdeen line. The timing of these schemes is open to some doubt, however, over to perceived preferences for road improvements.

12. It is the duty of everyone in our organisation to press for improvements to our Line, as our future depends on an improved line as much as an improved road. There has been pressure for improvements to the A9 road, and this pressure needs to be applied to the railway as well. In saying this, we need to recognise that journey time improvements have been ruled out in both the Strategic Transport projects Review and the Network Rail Route Utilisation Strategy Generation 2.

13. We have nevertheless been assured that there are ways and means of ensuring improvements to our Line which do not necessarily involve conventional transport assessments as encompassed in the RUS2 and STPR. If a clear and pressing socio-economic need arises for improvements to any railway line, including the Far North Line, then Transport Scotland are willing to consider small scale improvements if this helps socio-economic regeneration of an area facing major challenges.

14. There have been small encouraging signs of some progress regarding the installation of barriers on open level crossings on the Far North Line. I noticed that there are new barriers being installed on the Dalchalm crossing near Brora on the weekend after Easter. It is important that the other crossings are upgraded this year, including those in Caithness. This cannot come soon enough, as I reported a faulty level crossing light to Network Rail at 5.00 pm in late March on Watten crossing. These lights came on over 30 minutes after the train from Wick was known to have travelled through Watten, and remained flashing for some minutes, causing unnecessary false alarm to two motorists and a fuel oil tanker lorry driver.

15. Credit is due to Network Rail for the speed with which they responded to my call and the subsequent fixing of the problem. Nevertheless, it is important that we avoid false alarms such as the one above. This otherwise creates a cry wolf syndrome which then may cause accidents if road users misinterpret level crossing flashing warning lights.

16. Finally, we have conducted a survey of rail users and the general public which has stated clearly that there is major support of 90%b of respondents for both journey time reductions and the Dornoch Rail Link. This was done in late 2011 (see 2011 winter newsletter for details), and I must firstly apologise for not having done much with these results before. We intend to correct this omission this year. We engaged with Direct Rail Services Ltd last year as they built the Georgemas terminal, culminating in their excellent presentation to our AGM last year. As there is ongoing work regarding the Georgemas terminal, we will take a step back from there for the time being and await positive developments in future. There should nonetheless be an update on Georgemas developments and the Far North Line in general later this year.

17. In the meantime, we will lobby our elected representatives, using the results of our survey, as we feel we have a strong mandate for pressing for rail improvements on our Line. Our Constituency MSP, Rob Gibson MSP, is seeking a ministerial meeting to discuss this subject. We will seek more meetings with MSPs and councillors, and I urge you all to do the same please it is important that we act together on this. We have more chance of getting a positive result if more of us act.

And finally...

18. Our Annual General Meeting is scheduled to take place on the 22nd June this year, with the venue to be announced. Please come along to this, and we are looking perhaps to have a venue outside of Caithness as well. I hope to be able to report on some progress regarding the Line and associated developments. In the meantime, we will continue our campaign for a better Line through the Press and radio, and we will continue to meet with elected representatives to this effect.

19. Direct Rail Services has unveiled the new livery of its Class 68 locomotive, which I will show a picture of below. There is also a picture of a Class 73 attached. I include these locos as there are serious proposals to re-equip some of these with new engines because the original English Electric 4SRKT 4-cyl diesel engines are over 50 years old and increasingly expensive to maintain and run. The replacements include pairs of Cummins 750 bhp QSK 19 engines (same as those under the Class 220/1 Voyager DEMUs) or a single MTU V8 engine. This could result in a more cost-effective locomotive for use on rural lines if any emergent freight traffic or even passenger traffic requires extra motive power with relatively low route availability/ axle loading. A Class 68 also has a lower route availability, although it is likely to be deployed on more high profile freight or passenger services further south. Nevertheless, positive freight developments up here could increase the chances of one being seen north of Inverness!

Best wishes for spring 2013, more details of AGM to follow shortly,

Photo from Wikipedia under public use license. differs from the photo in the newsletter.

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