Rail group hopes for action to improve Far North Line after meeting with new Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Fiona Hyslop
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Rail campaigners are hoping that improvements to the Far North Line can start before the end of the year after what they called a friendly and constructive meeting with Fiona Hyslop.
The meeting took place on Wednesday, the day before Ms Hyslop was promoted from transport minister to Cabinet Secretary (Designate) for Transport.
Members of Friends of the Far North Line committee discussed rail infrastructure emanating from Inverness, including the Highland Main Line and the Kyle Line, as well as the Far North Line.
Convener Ian Budd said: “The purpose of the meeting was to make sure that the minister is fully aware of how far behind the infrastructure of these lines is when compared with the central belt and how essential fast, regular and reliable trains are for the economic wellbeing of the region and for the promotion of tourism.
“We also wanted to make clear the role railways will play in successful modal shift as part of the move towards net zero, which will only happen if there is sufficient capacity and reliability to attract freight and passengers to use them.”
Mr Budd welcomed the Scottish Government’s year-on-year freight targets, citing the fact that one train can replace 76 lorries, but warned that all three railways are restricted and mostly single track with limited passing places.
The group said it was aware of the government’s financial constraints but that they received an assurance that although projects may be delayed, they will be picked up as soon as possible.
Mr Budd added: “We discussed the planned passing loop near Inverness on the Far North Line (the Delmore Loop) and pointed out what a great benefit this comparatively small and inexpensive project would have for the reliability and capacity of the line.
“We expressed our hope that it will be built during 2024 as design and preparation are nearly complete.”
He said Ms Hyslop shared the group’s concerns about many of the current deficiencies, and said the Scottish Government has rail high on their transport agenda.
The Cabinet Secretary (Designate) said: “I was pleased to meet Friends of the Far North Line and hear more about their important contribution to improving rail infrastructure and services over many years.
"The Scottish Government has invested £15.5 million in phase 1 of rail infrastructure improvements on the Far North Line and Network Rail are currently working on details of phase 2 of the programme and will report its conclusions to Transport Scotland later this year.
"Future funding and authority to deliver these works will be subject to business case and affordability considerations and constraints. This demonstrates our strong commitment to rail in the Highlands, complementing other achievements such as the opening of Inverness Airport Station.”