29th December 2015
Highland MSP, Rhoda Grant who has spearheaded the campaign for improvements to the Far North Line is highlighting figures from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) that have recorded a year on year fall in passenger numbers using the line since 2012/2013. With the latest figures showing another drop in passenger numbers. Earlier this year Rhoda Grant wrote to the Transport Minister Derek Mackay asking the Minister what the Scottish Government were doing to try and reduce journey times on the Far North Line. She made the plea after it emerged that the trip from Wick to Inverness increased to almost 4 hours 30 minutes one year ago. Speaking this morning (29/12/15) Rhoda Grant said – public confidence has been eroded over the last two years and those with their hands on the levers of power must do everything they can to deliver a better service to the Far North Line, which sees about 400,000 use the line from Inverness. I am disappointed to learn that the passenger numbers on the far North line are at their lowest for several years. If we just look at the year 2012/2013 the total passenger number on the Far North Line from Forsinard and stations north thereof ie Caithness stations, was 73,562 and then in 2014/205 it dropped to a total of 67,304. This information only verifies what constituents and users of the Far North Line have been telling me, that the service is too slow and unreliable. A spokesperson for the campaign group, Friends of the Far North Line, highlighted continuing frustration among rail passengers.
Three months ago he cited, for example, a 10.38am train from Inverness to Wick. By the time it reached Invergordon, it was 12 minutes late because of a train heading south. There was a further 16-minute delay at Lairg while by the time it arrived at Helmsdale – 30 minutes late – it was delayed by a further 40 minutes waiting to access a single track section. Speaking today he said – We really do need to get a grip on this, he said. The number of passengers is going down because the trains are taking longer and the single track line does not have enough passing loops. Passengers at Beauly and Conon Bridge are fed up being stranded when late trains omit to stop, in order to make up time. Some people at Conon Bridge have reverted to going to Dingwall because the trains will stop there even if they are late. This is a lifeline service. It is not just for tourists.
People use it if they have hospital appointments, or they may have a rail connection going south. Rhoda Grant went on to say – I understand that Hitrans are also concerned by the level of service on this route and with 28 projects earmarked for the improvement of the line, only one or two have progressed to date. I will be writing to the Minister to ask him to ascertain what action is being taken by the train operator Abellio to expedite matters with regards improvement of journey times and reliability on the far North line.
The line at Scotscalder,Caithness
Photographer – Bill Fernie