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Far North Line campaigners say 'nothing sinister' in ScotRail timetable changes

By Philip Murray

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Friends of the Far North Line have no concerns over the future of service to Caithness. Picture: DGS
Friends of the Far North Line have no concerns over the future of service to Caithness. Picture: DGS

RAIL campaigners say they remain "optimistic" that services will return to normal on the Far North Line once the Covid-19 pandemic is over.

Friends of the Far North Line's convener Ian Budd said he does not see anything "sinister" in ScotRail's decision to temporarily remove some services in the wake of a post-Covid slump in passenger numbers.

And he believes that the mothballed journeys will be reintroduced to the timetable once coronavirus vaccines start being administered and life begins returning to normal.

He was speaking after it emerged that ScotRail was thinking of temporarily mothballing some services on its network until passenger numbers recover. Nationally, carriage occupancy levels have been a fifth of what they were before the pandemic began – and on the Far North Line it's thought to be at around 30 per cent of normal.

Caithness and Sutherland services do not not appear to be directly affected by the proposed cutbacks, which seem to be confined to some shorter commuter journeys between Inverness and Dingwall and others as far north as Tain.

ScotRail published a new winter timetable on Thursday.

But the Friends of the Far North Line is understood to have been given sight of the proposed changes ahead of that.

And Mr Budd said: "I don't think there's anything sinister involved here. What they are doing is similar to what they did – but far less drastic [now] than earlier in the year – when the first lockdown took place.

"This is not as I understand it, part of a permanent plan. In fact, until Covid came along, the intention has been to increase services."

He continued: "So, I don't have any long-term worries unless it turns out that people simply don't travel by train any more.

"I'm an optimistic person. Once we've all been vaccinated, assuming this all works out the way it is expected, I simply cannot see people not returning to rail in much the same patterns as before.

"The only caveat that I've got is some people who have been working from home may end up carrying on working from home to some degree.

"I suspect there will be a small change – some jobs may be able to be carried on from home and some employers may consider it desirable – but in speaking to various people I know it's not going to be a major change [in commuting numbers]".

He concluded: "We've got a very positive view about the future of the line. Things have been moving in a very positive direction [before Covid] so we see this as a temporary blip really."

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