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It still takes 10 hours to drive from Tain to London - wouldn't the reinstatement of Motorail fit the green agenda?

By Contributor

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One dark and snowy night in December, husband, wife and three small children got into the car and headed from Tain to London. Exactly why this happened is a story that I may not ever tell. Let’s just say that a kind cousin offered Christmas sanctuary at a difficult time.

Jamie Stone.
Jamie Stone.

I don’t know if I’ll ever forget the drive, crunching over the hard-packed snow at Slochd and then ramming our way through a headlong blizzard at Drumochter. We took it in turns to drive and the old Peugeot held together while the children slept.

But by the time we emerged from the freezing fog on the A1 (why did we choose that route?) and pulled up at my cousin’s house in Clapham, we were both absolutely shattered and good for nothing. Put it this way - it was a journey that I decided then and there to never make again.

How very different in the early 1990s to pull up with still smaller kids and two of our best friends, and park our shared car on the Motorail in Inverness.

“Vroom vroom”, as Boris said in his astonishing Peppa the Pig speech, and we drove the car onto a long open carriage, grabbed our bags, found our sleeping compartments, bedded the nippers down, and headed for a relaxed meal in the restaurant car.

Ah, that was the life, and at King’s Cross the next morning, we were as fresh as a daisy to complete our journey to visit mutual friends near Cambridge. Motorail was so easy back then, and you wonder why it was ever got rid of?

Oh, said the powers-that-be, but the motorways are so much better these days! (But it still takes more than 10 hours to drive from Tain to London.) These new rail franchises with different companies running different bits of what once was British Rail, meant that Motorail was no longer doable. It was gone forever.

In recent times I have been meeting on a regular basis with constituents in the Far North who take a healthy interest in green issues. Why would we not campaign to restart Motorail?

It is a very good question indeed. Getting cars on trains for long journeys keeps pollution to the minimum, is safer and less stressful for travellers, and in winter months makes a huge amount of sense. The more I thought about it, the more I felt a parliamentary question coming on.

But here’s the rub. One of the most effective ways of raising an issue in the House of Commons is a question directly to the Prime Minister.

And if you saw me on a Wednesday morning repeatedly standing up during Prime Minister’s Questions, it is because I wanted to suggest to Boris that reinstating Motorail would very much be in keeping with his avowed green agenda, and something that could be a natural follow-on from the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

The trouble is catching Mr Speaker’s eye. Yes, I know it’s a bit of a lottery, but having just missed a question to the Prime Minister a few weeks ago, I rather feel that Mr Speaker owes me one. Who knows? I’m an optimist, and I do feel that it is worth me pursuing this issue.

There has been a lot of sound and fury in the House of Commons in recent times, but if an MP, any MP in any party, can bring about something that improves the lot of our fellow citizens, then it is worth the effort. Fingers crossed.

Jamie Stone is the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross.

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