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Far North Line improvement project earmarked for possible Transport Scotland cash; but Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone warns against rail price rises

By Philip Murray

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A ScotRail train pulls away from the platform at Altnabreac on the Far North Line.
A ScotRail train pulls away from the platform at Altnabreac on the Far North Line.

IMPROVING rail services on the Far North Line is one of several projects "under consideration" for a cash injection from Transport Scotland.

It was flagged up among a list of possible priorities for the 2019-2024 funding period, in a statement released today.

The news comes amid long-running reliability problems along the track. In recent years there has been a glut of complaints from passengers, with cancellations sparked by driver shortages, lack of on-board refreshments on four-and-a-half hour journeys, and missed stops all rearing their head.

News that it is one of the proposed railway projects aimed at sustaining investment in Scotland’s railway, was unveiled at an industry event.

The Rail North of Border Conference saw almost 300 rail experts gather in Glasgow to look ahead to the next five-year rail funding period.

Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone has welcomed the possibility of improvements, but warned that any cash injection must not come out of passengers' pocked.

"No one could say this isn't needed!" said the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross member. "But it must not be paid for through a rise in ticket prices.

"The Scottish Government must invest in rail services and give people the transport systems they need and deserve."

Other projects highlighted during the announcement included more services and faster journeys between major cities, including Inverness, Perth and Aberdeen.

Tackling overcrowding in the central belt and exploring new technologies such as hydrogen-powered trains were also highlighted.

There will also be a 21 per cent increase in expenditure on the day-to-day running of Scotland’s rail network.

Michael Matheson, the transport secretary, said: “Through our new projects pipeline we will address the cost and delivery challenges witnessed in recent years. It will also give confidence to the rail supply chain, in that it assures a steady stream of work for the next five years.

“My biggest frustration however, has been operating with one hand tied behind my back. Franchising, in its current form, doesn’t work and we must use the opportunity provided by Keith William’s review of the industry as a means of delivering real and meaningful structural change in Scotland.

“Nothing short of full devolution of rail powers is needed.”

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