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DORNOCH RAIL LINK ACTION GROUP - Winter newsletter - Part Two

16th January 2013

Far North Line
11. As stated above, many railways in the U.K. are undergoing a major renaissance. It would be great to see the same happen on our Line. Unfortunately, the far North Line appears once again to have been left out. There have been some minor investments in putting in continuously welded rail (CWR) on certain sections, which gives a smooth ride as the trains go over it. This does have positive benefits on line speeds as I have seen a line speed limit of 80 mph at the beginning of quite a lengthy CWR section near Altnabreac. The drivers on the trains I have ridden in have also accelerated, as much as mechanically possible, to take advantage of this increased speed before they have to slow down once again for the jointed track section.

12. Our group also appreciates the introduction of the reduced size barriers on the open level crossings on the Inverness Thurso/ Wick line, with the additional introduction of half barriers on the Halkirk crossing. We have been unfortunately informed that there are no plans to speed up crossing speeds of these trains over these crossings, which is a wasted opportunity, in my view. Moreover, the Far North Line has once again been left out of the planned 2014-2019 control period 5 investment programme for the Scottish rail network.

13. I should clarify our position here we absolutely support the investment programme in the Scottish rail network, particularly with the journey time reductions and capacity increases on the Highland Main Line and also the expansions on the Inverness Aberdeen line and others. We nevertheless are disappointed and concerned that the Far North Line seems to be considered lucky to get the crumbs from the table, as it were. We have repeatedly made the point that there are projects of national and international importance going on up here, and your Convener and Committee have been banging the drum for rail improvements commensurate with the importance of projects such as the Pentland Firth and West Shetland oil/gas, as well as the Dounreay decommissioning. The point has been made at the last Caithness Conference in 2009 (not by me, I might add) that rail investment in the Far North is as important as road investment, if not more so, to attract inward investment to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the above projects. A better, more reliable and faster railway is critically necessary to help us develop ourselves post Dounreay to the advantage of not just ourselves, but also for the Highlands and Scotland as a whole. It is to everyones benefit to see Caithness standing on its own two feet now and in the future, and a better railway is key to this, with the Dornoch Rail Link in time.

14. To this end we intend to pursue a lobbying campaign with both the MSPs and our councillors to get ourselves a better railway. Contacts to this end have already been made, and they will continue through both your Convener and your Committee. I must nevertheless urge all you members and associates to join us in this campaign write to your MSP and councillor and demand a better railway for the Far North! We already have the results of the survey we conducted in late 2011, which clearly shows major support for both journey time reductions on the existing line and also the Dornoch Rail Link. Given the massive amounts of money being poured into the UK and Scottish railway network elsewhere, it is high time for us to lobby effectively and vigorously for a better and faster railway for us up here in Caithness.

15. I am pleased to report one piece of good news the Caithness Transport Forum (CTF)
has been reconvened under the aegis of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce, and our Group is still a member of this forum. We wish to express our appreciation of the Caithness Chamber for taking over the CTF, as this is an important forum for lobbying for and progressing transport issues for Caithness, including rail issues. We look forward to continuing to work with the Chamber and the Forum to progress rail improvements of common interest. On one point, I am informed that there are discussions in progress to resolve access issues to the Direct Rail Services terminal at Georgemas Junction, as the road access is a serious point of difficulty from a safety point of view principally. Watch this space!

And finally
16. Finally, I can attach some great pictures of the Great Central Railway below, which I visited in late October, after taking one of the above mentioned Class 222 Meridian trains from St. Pancras. I had some great rides behind both a Class 3f 0-6-0 and a Class 45 Peak diesel loco, with an excellent on-train lunch to go with it. As this was a Halloween special, there were lots of scary characters about (not including me, I emphasise!). I also spent a few great days in Hamburg, Germany between Christmas and New Year. One thing of note I used the Hamburg U-Bahn, which has absolutely no barriers at all, although plenty of ticket machines. The trains on the U-Bahn are clean and comfortable, although they have no connecting doors.

Best wishes for 2013,
Mark W. Norton, Convener, Dornoch Rail Link Action Group.