Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

Autumn / Winter Newsletter

We trust all our followers and their loved ones have continued to stay safe over the most recent months during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Half our railway line is now in Tier 1 and half in Tier 3 which is making train travel exceedingly difficult, and the CRP have not physically met as a group since February 2020.

As we head into winter, many businesses are currently closed yet again, as after a re-opening in July, and schools returning in August, it became apparent in October that another action was necessary to halt the 2nd wave of the pandemic. A long and difficult time ahead for all tourism and hospitality businesses along the HML. And the uncertainty of what maybe lies ahead in 2021 for us all?

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

However, not to be daunted, we have been working away on a new website, long overdue, and our enforced “Stay in the Hoose” meant there was plenty of time to have a good look at what we started with and where we want to go in future.

We have also been talking and planning for a Community Rail Scotland organisation as we move forward into 2022 and beyond. We had set up a Steering Group with all the other CRP’s and Community Rail groups in Scotland last year and in late 2019 commissioned Professor Paul Salveson to write a report for us and “The Way Forward”. In early 2020 it was delivered to Transport Scotland, ScotRail and the Community Rail Network to share our aspirations for the future of Community Rail in Scotland. This, of course, long before the global pandemic hit us all in March.

It seems hard to believe this time last year we were so optimistic about 2020 and reaping the rewards of “Highland Fling”, the new ScotRail HST’s, new Caledonian Sleeper trains and of course the new LNER Azuma launch on 10th December in Inverness 2019. Still, we understand there will be a couple of TV programmes on over Christmas to remind us of happier times on the HML, Strathspey Railway and including not only trains, but maybe some Reindeer...

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

We have just held our final Zoom meeting of 2020 and will reconvene early next year in the hope that the Recovery planning can commence and travel restrictions are lifting.

Travelling Classroom Project

There is a dedicated section on our new website outlining what we can assist our local schools with and where we had got to before Lockdown.

We cannot go into our schools, and they are not allowed out on visits at the moment, but we can certainly keep trains and rail travel in the frame. The children will be our rail travellers of the future. We are now moving to get two more schools on track.

We have continued working on the Administration of the project, gathering in all the many educational resources ordered pre Covid-19 and only just delivered. So far, we have the educational toys, books, games for the schools along with notebooks, pencils, lanyards and drawstring bags are being filled as “Blether Bags” for the Nursery age children. This was sponsored by LNER CCiF funding.

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

We have also designed our own Hi Viz vests for when we can finally get out on a train. and we would like to thank Mark and Alison at Birkwood Scotland at Ballinluig, who have offered to make beautiful wooden boxes to hold all the resources for the P1 to P3 groups and P4 to P7 groups within the schools, at cost, for the HML CRP. We are using some of our ScotRail Project Development funding for this.

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership
Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership
Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership
Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

Good News from our Stations

Pitlochry Station

The Pitlochry Station Bookshop has re-opened on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays 10am till 4pm and Saturday mornings. The new storage and sorting facility opened in January has been a godsend during the pandemic, as books can now be “quarantined” for 72 hours before going into the shop. As everyone has been reading more and sorting out bookshelves and cupboards, they have been extremely busy, which means they have been able to handover much needed funds to their charities. The Bookshop renovation was shortlisted by the NRHT for the BAM Nuttall award, but pipped at the post by Harlow Station. Congratulations to them.

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

As soon as it was safe to do so the Station Adopters, Pitlochry in Bloom, were back in action. We had a beautiful Summer flower show, the Station floral displays looked stunning until late September. A few photos of what you missed!

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership
Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership
Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership
Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

Penrith won the National Rail Award for Best Medium Station this year, but we were delighted to have made the shortlist again. Congratulations to them.

Update from ScotRail on Highland Main Line services and HST’s.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact on the number of passengers travelling across the railway network. Following the easing of lockdown restrictions in August, passenger numbers rose to begin with, but remained at about 30% of normal. As restrictions increased again, passenger numbers are now closer to 20% of the same period last year. Leisure travel recovered at a faster rate than commuter travel, but this is more prone to decline when Scottish Government puts restrictions on non-essential travel.

The ScotRail franchise is currently being funded by the Scottish Government through an Emergency Measures Agreement (EMA), with the contract running to January 2021. Following a network wide review of demand compared to capacity ScotRail have sought to offer better value for money for the Scottish taxpayer and have made the difficult decision to reduce the number of services that operate on the Highland Main Line.

Three daily services Monday to Saturday are being terminated, a fourth the 05.36 from Inverness, will terminate at Perth Monday to Saturday. This should not be seen as a permanent reduction in services and ScotRail are hopeful that passenger numbers will recover sufficiently to support the re-introduction of some or all of these services in May.

Twenty-five of the HST’s have now been delivered, although it should be noted that there has been one significantly damaged following the tragic derailment near Stonehaven in August.

The pandemic continues to impact on driver training. Prior to the pandemic, drivers had been recruited for the introduction of the hourly HML timetable. The current delays in the training programme means that there are no longer new staff passing out to cover the normal staff turnover as drivers retired or leave for other jobs. The delays also impact on training for existing drivers who have been learning to drive HST’s.

ScotRail are aware of rumours circulating about significant cuts to the service provided on the Highland Main Line. ScotRail remain committed to growth between Inverness, Perth and the Central Belt by providing an effective, and reliable, rail service that supports all the local communities along the corridor. They recognise that providing connectivity between the communities and to the rest of Scotland is the key ingredient in ensuring that these communities thrive.

Remember, the new winter timetable begins on the 13th December, so please check the ScotRail app for changes.

The Community Rail Partnership had hoped in 2020 to host one or two Stakeholder meetings along the HML, but sadly COVID prevented that. However, there is a new Stakeholder Panel for Scotland’s Railway and we have a representative for the CRP’s on it as well as Stewart Nicol, Chief Executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce.

AGM by Zoom

We successfully held our AGM in October, only two months later than normal and have finally signed off 2019. Writing the Annual Report for 2020 will be an interesting exercise over the winter, as will making plans for recovery and the future.

New Website

Our new updated and enlarged Website will go live later this month. We have expanded the original size of the pages to go full screen, done a massive edit, more new pages and photographs. We are also putting our archive photos on our online photo gallery.

Coming in the New Year as part of our recovery plan is extra information on all the communities and what they offer to visitors. We will wait until we get the green light for non-essential travel before encouraging everyone back on the train.

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

Photo courtesy of Peter Jolly

Christmas Gift

And finally, HML CRP were able to make donations to the Community Support Groups and Food Banks along the Highland Main Line and we thank ScotRail for their financial support in allowing us to do this. The impact of the economic situation in our communities is hitting home as we go into, in essence, a third winter in the hospitality and tourism sector and young families are particularly struggling.

With Seasons Greetings for a Safe and Happy Christmas and a better 2021 from us all on Highland Main Line Community Rail Partnership team! Stay Well, Be Kind and give a Hug when it is safe to do so.


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