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ScotRail chiefs urged to invest in Far North Line by Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson; call comes as figures reveal only two weeks in past year had no cancellations

By Scott Maclennan

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A ScotRail train prepares to leave Inverness Railway Station. Picture: Gary Anthony..
A ScotRail train prepares to leave Inverness Railway Station. Picture: Gary Anthony..

RAIL chiefs must commit to urgent investment in the Far North Line to tackle its infamously unreliable services, Highland Council's leader has warned.

Cllr Margaret Davidson has called for more direct investment in the route, which she described as a “national treasure”.

Her intervention comes amid a growing clamour for something to be done about the line's frequently late and often cancelled services.

Detailed weekly data from the Friends of the Far North Line (FoFNL) shows that over the last 12 months there were only two weeks that had no cancellations.

It also recorded the overall public performance measure showing a dip last October when just 41 per cent of trains were on time.

Councillor Davidson argued that lack of punctuality is putting people off who should be making the most of the journey, whether they be commuting locals or visitors.

She said: “It’s a terrific journey, a national treasure and we should certainly be making the most of it and encouraging investment, it is an amazing journey but it takes so long you really need to pack a picnic.

“As a commuter line it is very hard work because it takes four-and-a-half to five hours between Wick or Thurso and Inverness and no one has time for that.

“They haven’t invested in the Far North Line for decades and, because it is slow, because it is single track and the rolling stock is older, the number of people taking the train has spiralled down.

“We need them to improve punctuality because the way the line runs now it must be dragging down their national average.

“But they are just not marketing the Far North Line like they should and right now that lack of investment is a deterrent but investment in rolling stock is something that they can do.”

The convener of FoFNL, Ian Budd, said: “We wholeheartedly welcome council leader Margaret Davidson's enthusiastic support for the Far North Line. She echoes our comments about the railway over many years.

“I'm glad to be able to say that things are definitely moving in the right direction. Since the establishment, by Fergus Ewing, of the Far North Line review team at the end of 2016, every aspect of the line has been examined by the participants.

“Transport Scotland has led the process which involves the close working together of ScotRail, Network Rail, FoFNL, HITRANS, and other stakeholders to identify and implement a range of improvements.

“The review team completed its work earlier this year and some significant improvements have already been made. The ball is now in Transport Scotland's and ultimately the Scottish Government's court to make the funding decisions on some infrastructure enhancements, such as the construction of more passing places for trains on this single track route.

“Additional passing places and an additional link at Halkirk, to allow trains from the south to reach Thurso without reversing at Georgemas Junction, would allow more reliable, and more frequent, trains. We are hoping to hear some definite news soon.”

A ScotRail spokesperson said: “There’s no denying that the Far North Line is one of the great scenic rail journeys.

“Recent investment by ScotRail and Network Rail in refurbished trains, upgraded signalling equipment and in customer service shows our commitment to the route, and we’ll continue to work to support tourism and bring wider economic benefits along Scotland’s most scenic railways.”

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